Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Dec 02

Weekend Contests Around The Industry

Hey, want a chance to win a few experiences? Okay, you probably won’t, but just in case…

Virgin Hotels Holiday Escape

virgin hotel

Comes with a really cool photo

Want a couple of nights in San Francisco? Heck, they’ll even throw in the airfare. Simply follow them on Instagram and DM (direct message) them the answer to the puzzle (Hint: The answer is “mother in law.”), and you’ll be entered to win. I just got back from San Francisco and will have a few comments next week, but you’ll have your chance to get there on your own.

Le Club Accor 31 Thank Yous

le club accor

Le Club Accor 31 Thank Yous

This one is kind of a fun one. Enter every day starting at 9 pm and you can win any number of prizes sponsored by partners. The contest is good for the month of December and you’ll have a different chance to win every day by clicking on the window that corresponds with the date. The big prize comes at the end, in a drawing for a trip to French Polynesia. Sounds pretty good December.

A JetBlue All You Can Jet pass

jetblue

Possibly the most valuable of today’s contests, but also the hardest to enter. JetBlue is offering three All You Can Jet passes for 2018, but you need to book a non-refundable ticket between December 1 and December 14. It could be worse. They could force you to book a fully-refundable ticket to enter. You can also enter manually by mailing in an entry but, well, good luck with that.

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Dec 01

Is BankDirect Still Worth Your Bucks?

One of my favorite ways to earn American Airlines miles is through BankDirect, which pays you in miles instead of money. BankDirect offers 100 miles per month for every $1,000 you have in your account, e.g., if you have $25,000 with them, you receive 2,500 American Aadvantage miles per month ($25,000/$1,000=25 and 25*100=2,500). That ratio holds up for the first $50,000 in deposits each year, after which, the ratio is 25 miles per $1,000. The interest rate you earn is only 0.01%, but who cares? You’ll pick up plenty of miles. The account charges $12 per month.

It’s Time To Care

bankdirect

Not quite as good as it used to be

BankDirect was an unbeatable proposition when interest rates were zero, but banks are starting to push up savings account rates again. It’s easy enough to find an online bank paying 1.25%, which means that they’re starting to compete. Let’s take a look at the trade-off.

BankDirect’s premium rate is good on balances up to $50,000, so let’s assume that’s how much money you have in your bank account (anything lower works increasingly unfavorably toward the BankDirect alternative). That means that you’ll receive 60,000 miles per year, just for leaving your money there. Not bad, right?

Well, I’m not sure, because those 60,000 miles now cost you a bit more. Not in fees, but rather, in what you gave up to get them. $50,000 will now get you $625, although you’ll pay taxes on that money. If you’re in the 25% bracket, that’s $156, although it’s almost entirely offset by the $144 in fees that you’d pay at BankDirect. Your total take from the bank is $613.

At that rate, you are “paying” just over a penny per mile, which is still a pretty good deal. But that’s only if you have exactly $50,000 in BankDirect, which is the point at which you max out your miles. Any balances above that level only give miles at a rate 1/4 of the above, so $1,000 gets you 25 miles per month, or 300 per year. That same $1,000 would get you $9 in interest (after adjusting for taxes). Now, those miles are costing you three cents each, rather than a penny. That is not a particularly good deal.

It works the other way, too. Let’s say you only have $25,000, instead of $50,000. At 1.25%, 25,000 miles gets you $219 in interest (after taxes), but the BankDirect account still costs you $144, so that goes back in the “opportunity cost” bucket. Thus, you’re paying $363 for 30,000 miles, which is what you’d get at BankDirect.  That’s a rate of 1.2 cents per mile, which is quickly becoming the level at  which I draw the line because, while it’s still easy enough to get a better return when you use the miles, it’s no longer a guarantee.

I’ve always been a fan of BankDirect but, as interest rates dropped, they made changes that affected the rate and cost of earning miles. If they don’t make the account more attractive as rates rise, it may be time to move your money.

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Nov 30

Your American Airlines Flight Isn’t Getting Cancelled

I caught a headline today that seems to be throwing a few people for a loop. But don’t worry, your flight’s in good shape.

The Dallas Morning News reported that American Airlines had a scheduling glitch that could result in the cancellation of thousands of flights around the holidays. And while that definitely sounds bad, you likely don’t have much of a reason to worry.

When airlines schedule pilots, a certain amount of overtime is assumed. Pilots don’t work 40-hour weeks, nor should they, given the intensity of their jobs. There are generally reserve pilots, as well. In this particular case, the glitch occurred by allowing pilots to drop flights without ensuring that there would be back-up. Thus, certain flights were left unstaffed.

The problem will get solved, but the fact that it is even an issue reflects a recurring problem in the industry, which is the consistent conflict between management and labor. The battles occur on several levels, including within competing unions at any given airline. The industry has traditionally been cyclical, which means big raises during the boom times and employee givebacks during the bad times. Thus, both sides often fight their battles in public, not with the intention of changing anyone’s minds, but rather, appealing to their respective constituents. In this case, the unions are pushing for increased overtime compensation for their members.

Here’s what you need to know, though: The problem will get solved. No airline can afford the publicity that would come with cancelling Christmas vacation. But you’ll probably read more about it before the solution gets announced.

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Nov 28

Marriott Makes Subtle Changes For 2018. One Could Hurt.

We’re getting to the witching hour of hotel programs, that time of year when companies announce changes to their plans for the following year and hope to slip any negatives by you. Here’s what Marriott has in store.*

Note that, as expected, the programs won’t be merging in 2018 and, as of this point, you won’t be able to get Marriott points at Starwood hotels (or vice versa). And when they do combine, probably in 2019, I would expect the Ritz Carlton program to be folded in, so the entire company has one plan, not three.

Hertz Benefits

frenchmen's reef, marriott

Marriott’s Frenchmen’s Reef.

Platinum Elite and Platinum Premier Elite** members will get status in Hertz’s rental car program. Personally, I don’t think Hertz does such a great job anymore and certainly don’t get a lot of value from them, but others may find them useful.

If you have Marriott Platinum (or Starwood Platinum, since one gets you the other automatically), you will earn Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Five Star, which, among other things, gets you a one-category upgrade when you rent from them.

If you have Platinum Premier status,** you will receive Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle status, which seems to be very similar to the one above, with the added benefit that you get guaranteed confirmed availability when booking 48-hours out.

Goodbye Rollover Nights

The bigger change, though, is a negative: Marriott is ending Rollover Nights (RN) after this year. Each year, any excess nights you have over your elite status “roll over” to start your status for the next year. For example, you need 50 nights to earn Gold Status and 75 to earn Platinum. So if you stay 60 nights in 2017, you will have 10 “excess nights” above your current threshold. Those 10 nights would shift to 2018, giving you a head start for the next year. And it gets better: Those nights count toward your lifetime elite status in both years. So you would get 60 nights toward lifetime elite in 2017, plus at least another 10 in 2018. 60 nights get you 70!

Sadly, that is coming to an end after this year. You’ll still get as many nights as you earn each year, but the counter will also reset to zero every January 1.

And why are they making that change? Well, according to Marriott:

We are dedicated to delivering quality and consistency for our most loyal members. These changes will help ensure that we continue to provide exceptional Elite experiences during every stay. We want to ensure our most loyal Marriott Rewards and Starwood Elite members who have linked their accounts and matched their status enjoy their earned Elite benefits such as lounge access and room upgrades on a consistent basis.

I’m not sure what that has to do with making it more difficult to get elite status, but there’s no reason that they couldn’t have kept the benefit.


*As a quick reminder, Marriott and Starwood recently merged, but haven’t combined their programs yet.

**Beginner’s Hint: Most travel companies have “secret statuses” that you can’t earn. Rather, they have to be given to you by senior management at the particular company. Qualifiers usually include being either an extremely high-spending customer yourself (particularly with the airlines) or being a travel decision maker at your company. Platinum Premier is one such status, although its actual benefits are unclear.

 

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Nov 27

A “Hidden” JetBlue Credit Card Bonus: 60,000 Points

As points go, JetBlue’s TrueBlue points are among the most valuable. Since award prices are variable and depend on how much the ticket would cost if you purchased it with cash, they can be used for any flight. A good rule of thumb is that each point is worth about 1.5 cents toward the value of a flight, although they have a somewhat lower value if you are using them toward JetBlue’s premium Mint product.

The 60,000 Point Card

And get to fly in this awesome blue cabin

JetBlue offers a couple of different credit cards, a free one and one that will cost you $99 per year but comes with better benefits. The second card is the one that I’m going to concentrate in this post.

The card normally gives you a 30,000 point bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days, but Doctor of Credit has found one that gives you an even better bonus, allowing you to rack up 60,000 points. You can find the application link here and there don’t appear to be any limits as to who can apply for it but, obviously, I can’t make any promises. I do not offer this card through my personal links.

This card is best of breed and comes with a lot of valuable benefits even without the sign-up bonus, which is worth about $900 in JetBlue flights. Chief among them are six points for every dollar that you spend on JetBlue flights, a 5,000 point bonus every year and free checked bags.

I have this card and if you ever fly JetBlue, you should, too.

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Nov 25

Three Ways To Save With Holiday Shopping

One of my major rules for shopping on the internet is never to buy anything without getting something back for it, although that rule is increasingly beginning to apply to brick and mortar stores, as well. Here are a few ways that you can earn some cash back, some of which I have discussed before, some of which are new.*

Dosh It

dosh

An easy way to get some cash back on your holiday shopping;         Photo Credit: Creative Commons

One of the more interesting new programs is an app for your phone called Dosh. I call it a cash back program for lazy people because once you sign up, you don’t need to do anything. It tracks your purchases and automatically credits you. You link a credit card when you sign up (They advertise bank-level encryption.) and whenever you make a purchase at a participating merchants using that card, you get a percentage back. The merchants are listed on the app and include both national and local stores. If you use your card at a brick and mortar store, it will track automatically. If you are shopping online, simply use the online section of the app. Currently, they’re offering a $5 bonus just to sign up and link your first card.

You can also get money back for booking hotels through the app and will get $25 cash back for your first hotel through the link.

If you choose to sign up, you can do so through the link here, although it’s easiest if you do so by opening the link through your phone. You’re going to be shopping at many of these locations anyway, so you might as well get paid for it.

Online Shopping Sites

Buying stuff online? Be sure to do so through one of these online shopping sites. You can get either miles or cash back, although the cash is probably worth a bit more than the miles. You’ve probably heard of Ebates (also listed through that link), but there are others that are even better.

It’s simple. Just go through one of the listed portals to access whatever merchant you are shopping at. They’ll link you right to the store’s website and the store gives them a commission for doing so, which they share with you. In other words, you can go directly to the company’s website and earn nothing, or access it through one of the above sites and get something back. Which sounds better?

Note: There are about a million of these shopping portals, almost all of which can get you rebates at just about any store you can think of (with one big exception; Amazon doesn’t participate in most of these programs, although there is a way around that, as well). But if you want a good one that works consistently, my favorite is Mr. Rebates.

Amazon Smile

And, possibly the best of the cashback shopping programs is Amazon Smile. You get nothing from Amazon Smile, but every time you shop there, they donate 0.5% of the total amount to a charity of your choice.

Amazon is one of the most popular merchants in the world and they don’t participate with many other cash back programs, so this is a good way to do well by doing good.

 


*Some of these links are referral links and I may get something if you sign up. I really appreciate it and you will likely also get a sign-up bonus. Per my policy, if I know of a method to get you a larger sign-up bonus, I will do so, even if it’s not a referral link. It’s all part of the service around here.

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Nov 24

Small Business Saturday: Shop Locally

Tomorrow, I’m going to give you a few ideas on how to get cash back at some of the largest retailers, but today, I’m going to go smaller.

American Express has, in recent years, been calling the Saturday after Thanksgiving “Small Business Saturday.” Given the corporate sponsorship, so to speak, they obviously had some skin in the game, encouraging you to use your American Express card to shop at local businesses that accepted it. For a while, in fact, they were giving you a $25 credit to spend at a participating store. That credit has gone away, but they still push you to small businesses at this time of year, an area of the market where they’ve always struggled because of their high fees. Naturally, they’ll point you to the closest store that accepts American Express.

Shopping Locally

small business saturday

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Say what you will about their marketing campaign, but American Express does bring up a notable point: Given the size of companies like Amazon, brick and mortar stores, particularly independents, are struggling. It is those non-chain stores that give neighborhoods their character but the convenience of shopping online has hurt many of them.

So my suggestion is this: Buy one present that you would normally buy online at a local store this year. Obviously, more is better, but if everybody started with just one, it would provide some badly needed support for our neighbors. True, you may pay a couple of dollars more, but you’re supporting people right in your community and likely getting a level of service much higher than the anonymous internet.

And it really doesn’t matter what credit card you use.

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Nov 23

CVS Black Friday: $30.83 In Goods For $.09

CVS offers loyalty program awards called “ExtraBucks (EB).” If you make purchases of certain products, they will give you a rebate in the form of a coupon.

Every year, CVS runs a Black Friday promotion in which it offers a certain number of products for free*. Buy the product and they will give you back EB equaling exactly what you spent for the item, i.e., if you buy the promoted item for $1, they’ll give you a dollar back in CVS currency. So part of the holiday “fun” is to see how many items you can get for as little money out of pocket (OOP) as possible. Sure, there are a number of items that are “almost free,” but what’s the challenge in that?

2017 Freebies

CVS

This year’s freebies

This year is not ideal. There are ten items available with a total value of $30.83. For the sake of ease, we’ll call it $31. $31 isn’t divisible by anything, so we’re going to get stuck with a lot of EB at the end to use for future purchases. I’m going to divide the products into two groups, each worth about $15. At the end, you will have $15 of ExtraBucks.

First Purchase

Buy the Physicians Formula ($9), cleansing wipes, pantiliners, Green Giant, Candy (all $.99 each) and toothbrush ($2.50) first. You will pay the total of $15.46 and receive the exact same amount in EB.

Second Purchase

Now, use the EB from the first purchase to buy the remaining items: The batteries ($4.39), blades ($1.99), Glade ($.99) and Organic Doctor cream ($8.00). The total of those items is $15.37. You’ll use the EB from the original transaction to pay for these. You’ll lose $.09 in the translation, but end up with a lot of freebies and ExtraBucks to use for a future shopping trip.

There are a bunch of “almost free” items in the circular, such as toothpaste for $.50 (and it can be free if you use the coupon in the app, leaving you with some extra EBs at the end) and cereal for $.99, as well as some buy-one-get-ones. Or, you could just hold onto them (Remember, they eventually expire.) and use them in the future.

Either way, you’ll end up with a bunch of freebies that you can use, give away or donate.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

 


*Your CVS circular may be slightly different than mine, but the principle is the same. Total all of the items that are available and find a number by which its divisible.

**You could divide the goods into three lots of $10 each, which would leave you with $10 in EB instead of $15, but your OOP is higher.

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Nov 22

Surveys: A Plus And A Minus

On more than one occasion, I’ve discussed how easy it is to earn points by taking surveys. There are a fair number of companies that offer surveys and just as many travel providers who partner with them. Everyone, of course, is in it to make a buck, so you see the occasional new ones pop up, as well as downgrades from others. And sometimes, we get both.

Earn Total Rewards Points With Say And Play

Use your points to get that kind of view

I’m surprised that casinos haven’t focused more on their loyalty programs, although their best customers are the ones who don’t need the points anyway, since they get everything for free.

Caesars Entertainment, owner of the Harrah’s and Caesars brands, among others, have partnered with Say And Play to offer Caesars Total Rewards points for taking surveys. Most surveys will earn you 50-200 points and take anywhere from a few minutes to 25 to complete. Note that there’s often no correlation between the length of the survey and the points you earn. Points with Total Rewards are generally worth a penny each, although they’re worth half that amount if you use them to gamble. Still, it could be a nice way to end up treating yourself to an upscale meal.

eMiles In Decline

eMiles had been a program that I had high hopes for. The original eMiles had offered links that gave you points for clicking through, with additional points for participating in activities.

Recently, they rolled out a new version of the site and the opportunities have definitely gone downhill. The easy clicks for points are gone. Surveys don’t pay a lot and I’ve had a couple that have failed to credit. And the vast majority of offers require some sort of purchase to earn anything.

I don’t begrudge them the right to earn a profit, but there are better sites out there.

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Nov 21

Delta Adding A SkyMiles Perk For Transcon Elites

The general direction of frequent flyer programs has been downward. While airlines occasionally offer a carrot to improve the benefits, it’s much more common to get the stick. So even if the perk they add only affects a few people, it’s nice to get something.

Free Elite Upgrades on Domestic Delta One

delta one

An international lie-flat seat on a domestic route

One of the best perks of elite status on many airlines is free upgrades to either business class or premium economy seats. The upgrades apply to almost all domestic flights. I say “almost” because there are certain transcontinental routes where airlines fly their international first or business class product, and complimentary elite upgrades often don’t exist on those flights.*

In April, though, that will be changing, as Delta is bringing elite upgrades to domestic flights that use the international business class, known as Delta One. It won’t be the standard upgrade procedure, though. Instead of getting your bump up a few days in advance, the upgrades will only be confirmed on the day of departure. Those flights don’t tend to go out with a lot of empty seats, but having a slight chance at a Delta One bed is better than none at all.

So why is Delta making this change? My guess, and it’s strictly a guess, is that it has to do at least in part with the JetBlue Mint product. Instead of charging thousands of dollars for a seat up front, JetBlue is making the market more competitive by selling Mint for numbers that rarely exceed triple digits. As JetBlue expands its corporate presence, Delta (and its competitors) will be forced to offer at least a few crumbs to its passengers. Consider this the first.

 


*It makes sense that the coast-to-coast market is as competitive and expensive as the east coast to Europe. If you’re flying for six hours between large cities, why should it matter if you are flying east or west?

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!