Category Archives: Credit Cards

Online Shopping: How to Avoid My Biggest Mistake this Holiday Season

I leave a lot of points and miles sitting on the table.  It can happen at any time but it’s more noticeable this time of year with Christmas shopping.  I’m not talking tens of thousands of points, like you would be wasting if you screwed up a credit card bonus offer.  It’s not that huge of a mistake.  I call it my “biggest mistake” because it’s easy to avoid, yet I still manage to screw it up regularly.  I’m talking about online shopping portals.

Virtually Free Points and Miles with Online Shopping Portals

With online shopping portals you can earn potentially thousands of bonus points for about 20 seconds of work and a few keystrokes.  Many credit card points and frequent flier miles programs offer these online shopping portals, where you can earn bonus points for clicking through their link before shopping online.  You make the purchase on the retailer’s website just like normal, but you get bonus points for whichever program you used to click through to the retailer’s site.  Here’s an example:

You are about to make an electronics purchase at my favorite online computer store,  You remember you can earn bonus Ultimate Rewards if you shop through the portal at Chase’s website.  You log on to your Ultimate Rewards account and click “Shop through Chase:”
Online Shopping Portal

Search for in the “earn more” area:

You’re in luck! is one of the retailers in the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal program.  In this case, you earn 2 additional points for every dollar you spend on

Click through the link to and shop like usual.  (If I go afk and I get signed out of either the shopping portal or the retailer’s site, I usually start over again.  This probably doesn’t matter but I wouldn’t want to lose out on points because something weird happened.)  I normally get my purchase researched and ready to buy, close the browser tab, and then start over with the shopping portal to actually make the purchase.

With Chase Ultimate Rewards portal (and I believe all other programs’ shopping portals) you can use whatever payment method you want.  In other words, you don’t have to use the card tied to that points program to make the purchase from the online retailer.  This comes in handy when you want spending on a particular card but would like bonus points for another program.

Do as I say, not as I do

The key to getting these bonus points is simply remembering to get them!  As this article title suggests, I am horrible at this.  Many times I don’t realize I lost out on points until weeks or months later.  It’s one of those things where you just have to get into the routine and it will become second nature.

Don’t throw away free points and miles!  Check if your credit card or frequent flyer miles program has an online shopping portal BEFORE you make those last minute Christmas shopping purchases.

Small Business Saturday 2016 . . . Another Year, Another Disappointment

This year American Express has expanded Small Business Saturday to the entire holiday shopping season.  But, for the second year in a row, they are not offering any statement credits for AMEX purchases at small businesses.  In previous years, American Express enticed shoppers to patronize small businesses by offering $10-30 in statement credits after paying with your AMEX card.  Last year was the first since 2012 that no statement credit was offered.

Scraps from the table

In an effort to salvage what was undoubtedly a less successful effort last year, American Express is offering a consolation prize.  A few days ago I received an e-mail offer for double points when using an AMEX card at small businesses through December 31st, 2016:

Small Business Saturday 2016

My Hilton HHonors card from American Express

My Hilton HHonors card from American Express

Most American Express cards are included in this offer, but you have to register each card to activate the deal.  Cards that already earn more than 1 pt per dollar on regular purchases will also double their points.  For example, my AMEX Hilton Reserve normally earns 3 points per dollar.  During the promotion it would earn 6 points per dollar at small busineses.  However, the same is not true with category bonuses (such as dining or travel) that some cards earn.  Check out the full official FAQ here.

Not a remarkable deal

For some people this promotion will be worth something.  If you already frequent retailers on the small business list, it might be worth it for you to get the double points with your AMEX card.  On the other hand, you may still get better value using another card at the same store.  This is especially true at the many restaurants that are part of the promotion, since some credit cards already earn extra points for dining establishments.  This is not even to mention other bonus offers that might be running on one of your cards, like the frequent promotions the Barclay Aviator runs.

Do the math before automatically assuming your AMEX card is the best one to use at one of these small businesses during the promotion.

The moral of the story

As I wrote about in my post about last year’s American Express Small Business Saturday, there is a lesson here.  And it’s an important one at that.  For several years people came to expect the statement credit.  Now it appears to be permanently gone.  If you count on deals, offers, bonuses, etc. to be there for you in the future, you’re misplacing your confidence!  All value tactics change and some disappear.

I liked what I wrote last year so here it is again: The key to capturing and creating value is to recognize and take advantage of good deals when they exist, and to move on and adapt when the current opportunities change or disappear.

Card Review: Chase Ink Plus

UPDATE: This card has been replaced with the Ink Business Preferred.

chase ink
The Ink Plus is Chase’s Ultimate Rewards earning business credit card. With a new standard sign-up bonus of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points, this card is a heavy hitter in terms of value potential. And the value of the Ink Plus doesn’t all lie in the sign-up bonus either; it has generous 5x and 2x category bonuses as well, making this card one you may want to keep in your wallet for the long haul.

Basic Stats
– Issuer: Chase
– Logo: Visa Signature
– Points earned: Ultimate Rewards
– 1 pt per dollar on all purchases
– 2 pts per dollar on gas and lodging
– 5 pts per dollar on phone/internet/cable, and at office supply stores
– No foreign transaction fee
– Annual fee: $95 (NOT waived the first year)

Current sign-up bonus
60,000 bonus points after $5000 spend in 3 months

In 2014 I flew to Europe and back for 60,000 United miles, transferred from Ultimate Rewards. The bonus alone on the Ink Plus could get you the same flights!

A planted giant sequoia at Insel Mainau gardens in Konstanz, Germany

A giant sequoia at Insel Mainau gardens in Konstanz, Germany

Click here to apply for the Ink Plus business card from Chase

This card has been replaced with the Ink Business Preferred.

Can I get a business card?

This question probably scares away a lot of potential card holders of this and many other business cards with lucrative sign-up bonuses. Lucky for most of you reading this, we live in the USA, where having a “business” can mean many different things. Basically any side income that you earn that doesn’t show up on a W-2 can count as a business for the purpose of applying for a business credit card.

I have heard of many examples of businesses used to apply for these cards, some more legitimate than others. I have done ceramic tile and stone installation for over 10 years and even though it’s now an form of infrequent weekend income, it definitely qualifies. I have expenses and I earn income; that’s basically all that’s required. Others I have heard of include: bicycle racing expenses and winnings, online sales (amazon and ebay), running a website, and even inconsistent odd jobs. All of these could qualify you for a business card.

When applying, my advice is to embellish where needed, but never outright lie. If you are just starting a business or online sales effort you can use projected or expected income on your application. Be optimistic about your income figures and don’t skimp when you’re asked how much you expect to put on the card. When it comes down to it, unless you have a thriving business with employees, the bank will probably base most of its decision on your personal income and credit score (if you don’t have a federal tax ID, you will use your personal SSN for the application.)

Sign-up and category bonuses

The 60,000 Ultimate Reward bonus is incredible! Even considering you pay the first year’s annual fee up front, this card’s sign-up bonus is more valuable than its non-business counterpart, the Chase Sapphire Preferred. After the initial spend of $5k, you’ll have at least 65,000 UR points. That’s enough for:

. . . And that’s just the minimum points you’ll have after meeting the $5k spend. If you have $250 in monthly cell phone and landline/cable/internet bills on this card, you’ll earn 1250 UR points a month, or 15,000 a year. That doesn’t even consider other spending you may put on the card, including the 2x point earning on gas station purchases and lodging.

My experience with the Ink Plus

When I got the card it had an elevated sign-up bonus of 70,000 points. This deal has been seen before (and even higher, but with higher minimum spends) but the 60,000 UR bonus is one of the best around, so I wouldn’t wait for an elevated bonus. I just had lucky timing.

I have had my Ink Plus for over a year. I calculated the 5x category bonus on our cellphone and internet bills just about paid for the annual fee. So additional value I get from having the card is basically free. I also use this card on business expenses (tile supplies purchased for clients) and some fuel purchases. For me the category bonuses might make this card more of a keeper than the Sapphire Preferred. I will have to make that decision soon, as my Sapphire Preferred annual fee is due soon. (Always remember to transfer your UR points to another UR account in your household before you cancel an UR-earning card!)

Should you get this card?

Yes! The total value from getting this card is easily over $2000 and can be much higher if you redeem your transferred miles tactically. If you have absolutely no travel plans in your future, the card is still worth at least $650 in the cash-out value of your points, all for a $95 annual fee. That’s $555 profit just for getting one card and making sure you meet the minimum spend. (Don’t redeem for cash though . . . the UR points are worth much more when transferred to a partner program!)

Here are some things to consider when working the Ink Plus into your overall card strategy:

  • IMPORTANT: You have to prioritize applications for Chase cards because of the 5/24 rule.
  • Ultimate Rewards points are very versatile so having a stock of them early in your value tactics career would be helpful.
  • The 60,000 UR sign up bonus is worth more than the 50,000 point bonus on the Sapphire Preferred personal card, even when accounting for the up-front $95 fee.
  • The $5000 spending requirement may be a challenge for you to meet, especially if you have other bonus spends cooking at the same time. (REMEMBER, the $95 annual fee does not count toward your bonus spend.)

The Chase Ink Plus is an amazing card for it’s category bonuses, fringe benefits, and extremely valuable sign-up bonus. If you can make the case that you have a business (not very difficult – see above), I would highly recommend that you get this card early in your points career!

Click here to apply for the Ink Plus business card from Chase

This card has been replaced with the Ink Business Preferred.

Don’t Hoard Points

Adam Sandler’s character in “Punch Drunk Love” working on hoarding 1,000,000 miles through a loophole in a product label promotion.  He’d better spend some before the next devaluation!

In last week’s update I mentioned that I recently realized I had close to 1 million points and miles in various airline, hotel, and credit card programs.  Being a points millionaire might seem like a fun title to have, but in fact it’s dangerous.  No, I don’t mean you would need a bodyguard and a home security system; I mean your huge points and miles balances are a liability because they are only worth something when you redeem them, and redeeming them gets worth less and less as time goes by.


Too many points saved up? Maybe . . .

Read on to learn the three possible downsides to building up an oversized point and mile portfolio.

1. Devaluations

Frequent flyer and hotel rewards programs routinely devalue their points by raising the average number of points needed for a given flight or hotel stay.  This is their way of accounting for inflation.  If the dollar’s real value is decreasing by 3.1% per year (the average over several decades), it means we’re spending 3.1% more nominal dollars per year.  If every dollar we spend on a co-branded credit card earns us x points or miles, we are getting more and more redemptive power as time goes by.  At the same time, the hotels’ and the airlines’ real cost of granting you the free flights and hotel nights stays the same.  To account for this they raise the points needed for their redemptions.

Then there’s the unpleasant but unavoidable fact that websites like mine, other blogs, and forums like Flyertalk (along with the general increase in communication since these programs were started) are making these programs less lucrative for the airlines, hotel chains, and credit card companies.  As more and more people learn how to maximize the value of these programs and work every angle down to the finest detail, the companies have to push back to maintain their profits.

There are a variety of factors that cause points and miles devaluations, but it’s a fact that they will continue to occur.  No one should be surprised by this.  I agree with most of the big time bloggers on the subject, where the consensus is: It’s ok to devalue your points, but don’t try to hide it from your customers.  A recent Southwest devaluation seems to have done just that.

Points and miles gradually lose their value over time, so spending them sooner rather than later is one important tactic to maximize their value.

2. Mergers

Last year U.S. Airways was absorbed into American Airlines.  Earlier this year it was announced that Marriott will be purchasing Starwood.  Each frequent flier and preferred guest program have their unique benefits and redemption tricks.  When mergers happen, these program nuances are usually lost.  Sure, you may gain some new program benefits when you lose others, but on the whole it seems like the new entity always manages to come out on top.

For example, Starwood is famous for its awesome redemption rates at hotels ($0.02 per point, compared to Hilton’s roughly $0.003 per point rate).  The fate of everyone’s Starwood points after the Marriott merger is still unknown, but the travel community seems to be preparing for a net loss of value.

While mergers are usually known well in advance, putting all your eggs in one basket – a basket that may get dumped into another basket – is probably not the best idea.

3. Known or unknown transgressions (account closure risk)

This one is tough.  Everyone has to formulate their own ethical code of conduct when dealing with credit card bonuses and points earning strategies.  I personally play it pretty safe.  I don’t get new cards every three months like clockwork, I’m not into blatant manufactured spending, and in general I try to play by the rules.  Of course I explore the limits of the rules, but that’s the fun part!  I get a lot of value from these programs and I don’t want to risk being blacklisted.  In short, I don’t want the powers that be to like me; I want them to not even notice me.

Then there are those who play hard ball.  People who spend thousands a month on manufactured spending.  People who get authorized user cards for their dogs and cats to get the bonuses some cards offer.  People who attempt tactics such as getting the bonus spend the first day they get a card, waiting for the bonus to post, and then cancelling the card before the first month’s bill closes to avoid paying an up-front annual fee.

These people really have to worry about the future of their stored points and miles!

It’s not unheard of for accounts to be summarily closed without warning.  While many people who report such closures claim they’re completely innocent, I have a feeling most of them have done something to get on the radar of the credit card companies.  Chase seems particularly ruthless toward program abusers.  There is even a huge Flyertalk thread just for reports of Chase Ultimate Rewards accounts being wiped.

While most of these cases are probably warranted, I’m sure mistakes are sometimes made and unsuspecting decent folks have their points accounts obliterated without just cause.  The fine print associated with these programs usually gives the bank total authority over your points accounts.

Even if you’re not playing with fire, the chance exists that you could fall out of disfavor with a bank or airline and lose all your stockpiled miles.  Don’t take the chance . . . DON’T HOARD POINTS!

An AAvalanche of Bonus Miles Offers

American Airlines miles (AAdvantage miles) are some of my favorite points and miles. American typically has very good award seat availability, including premium cabins. AAdvantage miles are also easy to come by, partly because of some good credit card sign-up bonuses, and partly because of the frequent bonus offers promoted by American’s co-branded cards. I’m currently drowning in a flood of these bonus offers from the 4 AAdvantage earning cards that Nicoleen and I have open. (I know I just mixed metaphors – avalanches and floods – but I couldn’t resist the “AAvalanche” pun for this post’s title!)

Whenever I get e-mails or mailers for these bonus offers, I always weigh the benefits with the effort.  Not all bonus offers are worth pursuing.

Barclay Aviator’s 3×500/15k Bonus Offer

I’ve noticed that the Barclay Aviator card tends to have the best offers on a consistent basis.  The best type is their 3×500/10k, 3×750/15k, and 3×500/15k bonuses.  These are all variations of the same offer, whereby you spend at least $500 or $750 in three specific consecutive months and get either 10k or 15k American Airlines miles as the bonus.  The best is obviously the 3×500/15k bonus because for $1500 in spending you end up with 16,500 miles.  That’s close to the return you get on some sign-up bonuses!
Despite needing to spend $8,500 to meet the minimum spends on my current card sign-up bonuses, I’ve decided to fit this bonus offer in.  It’s that lucrative.

Barclay Aviator’s Category Bonus

The second Aviator deal I got a mailer for was a category bonus.  After activating the promotion, I will earn 3x miles on gas, restaurant, and home improvement store purchases.  This is pretty good, as far as category bonuses go; gas and restaurants are very common purchases.  Nicoleen got the same offer for her Aviator card.  And the best part is that purchases in these bonus categories also count toward the 3×500/15k offer I just mentioned.
3x AA
…but wait, there’s more!

Barclay Aviator’s 1k/5k [retention] Bonus Offer

Now, for the triple dip…
In late May, in the middle of my 3×500/15k spending, I realized it was time to either cancel my card or have the annual fee waived/reimbursed.  When I called Barclay to try for a retention offer I was pleasantly surprised to be offered not only an annual fee waiver, but also an additional miles bonus offer!  The rep said if I spend $1k in the next 90 days I will get an additional 5,000 miles.  This will be easy since I’ll be automatically meeting that spend by taking advantage of the other offer.  That makes 21.5k miles for $1500 in spending (PLUS whatever extra I get from the 3x categories)!

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Category Bonus

Nicoleen and I both have the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card, our other American Airlines miles earning cards.  We both got a mailer with a category bonus through June.  Any spending at home improvement stores, home furnishing stores, computer & electronics stores, and department stores, will earn us 3 miles per dollar spent.  With the spending requirement on the aforementioned Barclay offers, plus all the spending we have to do for my last round of card apps’ bonuses, we probably won’t be taking aadvantage of this offer.

One thing to note however, is that my last retention offer on this card last June is still in effect.  Any month I spend $1,000 or more on this card, I get a 1k mile bonus.  If I were in a different position and was going to actually put some spending on this card, the two offers would stack.  This means my month could look like this:

$400 normal spending = 400 miles
$600 spending in bonus categories = 1,800 miles
>$1000/month = 1,000 mile bonus
Total for month: 3,200 miles

When it rains, it pours.

It’s inconvenient to get bonus offers when you’re in the middle of making some sign-up bonus spending requirements.  But if the offer is good enough (the Barclay 3×500/15k deal) it might be worth the hassle to work it in to your strategy.

One thing’s for sure: I’ll be looking for ways in the near future to start burning my wellspring of American Airlines miles. 

Possibilities, possibilities! 🙂

More Evidence of ValueTactics Fanaticism

A few months ago I posted this photo of a pile of credit card activation stickers I didn’t even realize I had collected:

Well, it happened again!

A few days ago I looked down at my desk and noticed I had a pretty decent sized pile of assorted value tactics related stuff going:

zealotry2Let’s analyze the contents a bit.

  • Menards rebate check (below the credit cards)
  • Menards rebate receipt, waiting to be sent in
  • Several recently cancelled credit cards
  • Several currently in-use credit cards not part of my regular wallet
  • Credit card activation stickers from various banks

Having all this stuff is probably bad enough, but when it’s allowed to pile up, unnoticed, for weeks because it’s so integrated into my normal every day routine…have I gone too far? 
You tell me…

A New Way to Cancel Credit Cards

…new to me, at least.  I recently cancelled my CitiBusiness AAdvantage card online, via secure message.  The annual fee was coming due and I didn’t think it was worth it for me to keep the card and pay the fee.  I have always wanted to try this method and it worked like a charm.

Cancelling cards by phone is usually pretty simple, but sometimes the rep will try to harangue you into keeping the card by reminding you of the card’s benefits, offering you some bonus points, or waiving your annual fee.  In some cases, this is what you want.  Having a few cards with long account histories helps your credit score, but many cards come with an annual fee after the first year and keeping them around may not be worth the fee.  Often, calling to cancel will trigger a retention offer.  Flyertalk keeps an updated record of reports by bank on what kind of offers people are getting:

(Be sure to click “click here to display Full Wiki” for the list of recent offers people have received)
American Express

But if you simply want to cancel the card and aren’t interested in retention offers, the phone call to the rep can be annoying.  They understandably want to keep you as a customer, but if you can avoid a pitchy phone call where you have to say “no” 50 times to get your point across, why not jump at that opportunity!

For some guidance, I found this MommyPoints post which gives some simple instructions.

I sent a brief message to Citi when logged into my account.  It said that my business expenses ended up being less than anticipated, and the amount of spending I would be able to put on the card would not warrant keeping the card, and I would like to close the account effective immediately.  I’m sure not even that much explanation is necessary.  “Please close this account effective immediately,” is probably good enough.

A few days later I logged on the account and it showed it as closed:
Keep in mind this was a Citi account and so was the example in  the MommyPoints blog post, but every issuing bank has a similar secure messaging system on their websites.

Have you closed a card via online message?  Which bank was it with?  I’d love to hear of any similar experiences, successful or unsuccessful.

My Last Chase Card Application Ever?

A few nights ago I had an AOR (app-o-rama) and applied for 3 cards, including the Marriott Rewards Premier from Chase.  Unless something changes in Chase’s 5/24 policy, this may be my final Chase application for the rest of my credit card career.  As I discussed in this post, the policy says that if you have 5 or more new card applications (from any card issuer – not just with Chase) in the past 24 months, you will be summarily denied on any Chase application.

I have opened 9 new credit cards in the past 24 months, so I’m well beyond the 5/24 limit.  But the rule goes into effect for Chase co-branded cards some time this month (April), and I applied for the Marriott card on March 31st.  I didn’t particularly want this card but I figured it was my last chance to get any Chase card for the foreseeable future, so I picked the best current promotion that I was eligible for and gave it a shot.

My philosophy is to never apply for just one card so I shopped around for the best current promotions at other banks that I was eligible for, and here’s what I came up with:

  • The Chase Marriott Rewards Premier card: 80,000 Marriott Rewards points (+7,500 for adding an authorized user) after spending $3k in 3 months.  $85 annual fee not waived the first year.
  • The Spark Cash for Business from Capital One (gasp!): $400 cash back (+$90 for meeting the spend) after spending $4.5k in three months.  Annual fee waived the first year.
  • The Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express: An unprecedented 35,000 point bonus after $3k in 3 months spend.  MASSIVE FAIL (read about it here), so instead…
  • The Hilton HHonors card from American Express: 75,000 Hilton points after spending $1k in 3 months.  No annual fee.

And here’s how the applications went:
Two out of three instant approvals at this stage in my card career isn’t bad!  If I end up getting denied for the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier it will be very interesting to see what the reason is.  Will the 5/24 rule be applied when the application is reviewed even though the application occurred in March?  When exactly in April will the rule go into effect?  Well, for my sake I hope these remain a mystery because I want to be approved 🙂

No matter what the result of the Chase application I have some serious spending requirements to meet in the next three months.  If I have to get creative it will probably be a good time to write an article or two on how to meet minimum spends.  As always, I’ll keep you posted…

Links to the card offers mentioned here:
Chase Marriott Rewards Premier
Capital One Spark Cash for Business
American Express Hilton HHonors card (offer expires 05/04/16)