Category Archives: Weekly Updates

Semi-Monthly Update (June 16, 2017)

In this update:  A plethora of increased sign-up bonuses, another exciting excuse from yours truly, a travel update, and a recap of recent ValueTactics blog posts.




Credit Card News

The summer weather is heating up and so are the credit card sign-up bonuses!  Across the board, banks are rolling out some of their cards’ typical increased sign-up bonuses.  Whatever your overall card strategy is, the elevated sign-up bonuses can either simplify or complicate your decision matrix.  Either way, it’s nice to see these bonuses return; it indicates that card issuers are still hungry for your business!

  • Citi AAdvantage Platinum MastercardCiti’s AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard currently has an increased sign-up bonus of 60,000 American Airlines miles.  The usual bonus is 40,000.  To get the bonus miles, you must spend $3,000 in the first three months.  The $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
  • Citi’s business version of the American Airlines card listed in the previous bullet point is also at 60,000 miles for a limited time.
  • The AAdvantage Aviator Red from Barclaycard doesn’t exactly have an increased sign up bonus, but it is available with a nice 50,000 mile bonus.  This card was previously not available for new account holders; it was only available in a converted form from an old U.S. Airways card.  The $95 annual fee is not waived the first year, but the bonus is earned after your first purchase!
  • Barclaycard’s Arrival+ currently has an elevated bonus of 50,000 points after spending $3000 in the first 90 days.  The usual bonus is 40,000.  These points are redeemed for reimbursements of travel purchases made on the card.  You get 5% of redeemed points back in your account, so the current bonus on this card is worth $588.  The $89 annual fee is waived the first year.

YouTube Channel Update

todolistAnother update, another excuse!  🙂  I have acquired a key piece of equipment I need to produce high quality videos.  However I haven’t managed to acquire the time needed to put it to use.  I promise you, as soon as I’m able I will start releasing useful and entertaining videos for you to watch and share!

Recent ValueTactics Blog Posts

Barclaycard Aviator RedKeep or Cancel: Some Examples is a great post for helping you decide whether to keep a credit card when its annual fee is due.  It’s impossible to cover every variable for every situation, but this post shows some examples of how I work through the decision.

Travel News

Over the past week I’ve been struggling to book airfare for our fall trip.  It’s not that there aren’t any good options; there are plenty that would work.  It’s that I’m coordinating with a friend and we both want to get the best deal possible.  It should be pretty easy once we can both get a free hour or two together to work through it.

One thing is for sure. . . our planning is going to result in quite the spreadsheet!  Once I have it, I’ll be sure to share it on the ValueTactics Facebook page.

Now you’re updated.  Go employ some Value Tactics!

Semi-Monthly Update (June 4, 2017)

In this update: our monthly points and miles activity, a YouTube update/excuse, some recent blog posts, and some minor travel news.




Household Points and Miles Activity for May

It was a pretty uneventful month for points earning/using.  Here’s how we did:

  • earned 738 hotel points
  • earned 2,941 Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • redeemed 80,000 Marriott points for a $1,061 hotel stay

YouTube Update

I apologize for the delay in officially launching the ValueTactics YouTube channel.  All the standard excuses apply: lots of kids, busy at work, busy working on house, etc.  I also need to acquire a halfway-decent microphone, which I have been putting off.

youtubedash

I will do my best to have the channel launched by the next semi-monthly update.  I know some of you really are anxiously waiting for this thing to develop.  After all, who wants to expend all that effort reading when you could just zone out and stare at a video?

New ValueTactics Blog Posts

Our Hawaiian Get-Away 2016 is the main page for the amazing, value-packed trip we took in September.  This post explains exactly how we planned the free nights and airfare, and how the plan all pieced together.  You can also find links to individual hotel reviews here.
The Mistake that Cost me a $690 Hotel Room is the cautionary tale on how I *almost* booked a sweet free room to cap off our anniversary trip to Europe.  Free travel is a fickle thing, and deals can slip through your fingers if you’re not careful.  Read this post for some tips on how not to make the same mistake as I did!
Hotel Review: Maui Seaside Hotel is my review (with lots of pictures) of the “burner” night we spent right after landing in Kahului on Maui.  This was the only hotel on the trip we didn’t use points to book.

Travel News

The blaster shower at Timberlake Lodge that drains entire lakes when all the shower heads are turned on.

The blaster shower at Timberlake Lodge that drains entire lakes when all the shower heads are turned on.

I only have some tiny news to report on the travel front.  I’ll be traveling for business for a couple days in Grand Rapids, MN.  I look forward to this trip every year and I’m excited that I reserved my room early and had my choice of hotels.  I got into what is hands down the best hotel in town, the Timberlake Lodge.  This place is head and shoulders above the rest of the in-town options.  You can read my review of the Timberlake Lodge here.

Now you’re updated.  Go employ some Value Tactics!

Semi-Monthly Update (May 18, 2017)

In this update: Current credit card elevated bonuses, my card dilemma, recent blog posts, around the web, and website news.

First, a change of plans-  My plans for a huge garage sale this Saturday have been postponed due to weather.  You’ll have to wait a little bit longer for a report on how many giant soccer balls and Menards free stuff I will be able to move.  No one wants to go garage sale-ing in crappy weather, which is what’s forecast through Saturday.
weather

Credit Card News

There are a few cards with higher than usual sign-up bonuses at the moment:

ValueTactics reader Nidakeed sent in this pic of the offer he received for the brand new US Bank Altitude Reserve.

ValueTactics reader Nidakeed sent in this pic of the offer he received for the brand new US Bank Altitude Reserve.

Now for my dilemma:  Notice two of these three cards are from Chase?  I cannot get a Chase card because of the blasted 5/24 rule.  And any good card offers I take advantage of from other banks would put me even further into the hole on 5/24, putting these great Chase offers even further out of my reach.  I stand by my original assessment of this 5/24 rule: it IS a game changer.

Recent ValueTactics Blog Posts

Hotel Review: Hilton Amsterdam is a long overdue review of the free night we spent in Amsterdam at the end of our 10 year anniversary trip.  The stay was free, plus we got some nice perks!  Worth a read.
Why my Shed is Full of 40″ Giant Soccer Balls  Well . . . if you’re wondering what this one is all about, just read the post! 🙂

Around the Web

I came across this little gem this week whist surfing my frequent read list.  Regular readers already know how much I love MileValue, and this post is a perfect example of why.  Scott compiled this table comparing the miles required by different major frequent flier programs over a year ago.  He keeps it updated and I regularly use it as a reference.  Here’s the link; it’s worth a bookmark:
Comparison of United, Delta, & American Airlines Latest 2017 Award Charts

Website News

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I’m expanding to YouTube!

The ValueTactics YouTube channel will feature custom content: card reviews, trip reviews, strategy, tactics, news, etc.  Basically the same things covered here, but in a different format.  There are several reasons for this new expansion, which I will explain further in an upcoming post when the channel goes live.  In a nutshell: it’s easier to explain this stuff verbally than to write about it.

Don’t worry though!  ValueTactics will remain a regularly updated blog as well!

Now you’re updated. Go employ some Value Tactics!

Semi-Monthly Update (May 4, 2017)

In this update: An new elevated bonus on the Chase Marriott card, my recent card cancellations, our household monthly points and miles activity, and a teaser of some exciting website news!

Credit Card News

The Chase Marriott Premier card I recently reviewed now has an elevated sign-up bonus of 100k pointsThe higher bonus comes with a steeper spending requirement; $5k in the first 3 months.  The $85 annual fee is not waived the first year.

Click here for the Flyertalk wiki containing links to the 100k offer.
Click here to read my review of this card.

In personal credit card news: In the past few days I have cancelled 2 out of 3 cards from my last app-o-rama.  Both cancellations were easy as pie.  I cancelled the Capital One Spark Business via automated phone system.  I also cancelled the Chase Marriott Premier over the phone, but I got a live rep.  She didn’t even hint at a retention offer and only asked once if the free annual night would make me want to keep the card.  The whole call was under 4:00.

Household Points and Miles Activity for March

spreadsheet

I recently did my big monthly spreadsheet update.  Between Nicoleen and I, here are the earnings and redemptions we made in March:

  • earned 5,358 hotel points
  • earned 3,787 Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • earned 466 Citi Thank-You points
  • redeemed 21,000 hotel points for a $110.02 hotel stay

New ValueTactics Blog Posts

My Easiest (and Quickest) Credit Card Cancellation shows just how easy and convenient some of these card-wrangling tasks can be!
An Updated Look at Ultimate Rewards Versatility explains why I value these points so highly.  I show examples of the many trips I have taken which were made possible by these versatile transfer points.
Chase Marriott Premier Bonus now at 100k looks at the latest bonus offer for this valuable credit card.  It might be a good time to get this card if you’ve been on the fence.  Read the post to explore the possibilities!

Website News

My readership growth has been steady but slow since I created this valuetactics.com.  Maintaining the site is a lot of work but I enjoy it.  With 5 kids and a full time job, I don’t have the time it would take to truly promote the site and gain greater readership.
Actual Sunrise
However, I have been toying with the idea to expand to another medium. . . a medium that will take more of my time but has the potential to greatly expand my audience.  This isn’t an official announcement and I haven’t even fully decided to go that route, but some of you can probably guess what I’m talking about! 😉

Now you’re updated. Go employ some Value Tactics!

Semi-Monthly Update (April 25, 2017)

This was supposed to be a “mid-April” update.  Between the busy season at work, Easter weekend, and the vacation hangover from our recent Miami Beach trip, I have fallen behind.  In this update: another reader success story, a free gas tactic update, and some travel news.

Reader Success Stories

ValueTactics readers Alex and Sarah just returned from their first ever points redemption vacation!  This trip was planned and executed within a short time span.  Just over a month ago I helped Alex plan this spring Florida get-away.

Sarah and Alex cruising in their Camaro convertible rental car. When the flights and hotel are free you can splurge on other aspects of the trip!

Sarah and Alex cruising in their Camaro convertible rental car. When the flights and hotel are free you can splurge on other aspects of the trip!

They booked the hotel and airfare exclusively with Chase Ultimate Rewards points and other benefits from the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards.  I’ll try to coax a whole hotel review out of Alex in the near future.

Free Gas Update

Some of you have asked if I still use the free gas tactic.  I haven’t included my free gas tally in these updates for a while now.  This is partly due to my greatly reduced commute mileage since taking a new position at work a year ago.  But the primary reason is that it’s just not as exciting anymore since Super America cancelled double coupon Tuesdays.

That being said, it’s still a valuable tactic even if it doesn’t add up like it used to.  Twice in the past few weeks I’ve cashed in the “big coupon” for a $0.50/gallon discount.  Both times I brought gas cans to maximize the coupon’s 25 gallon limit.  Including other discounts I get $14.00 knocked off the total for the 25 gallons.
gas1250

Travel News

Nicoleen and just finished recovering from two hotel stays within a week.  The first was our “staycation” in Minneapolis for our friends’ wedding.  (Congratulations Thom and Pam!)  We used Hilton points to stay at the new Hampton Inn downtown.

Three days later we left for Nicoleen’s surprise birthday vacation to Miami Beach.  We had a blast in South Beach!  Our short vacation surprisingly seemed a lot longer than two nights.  Expect reviews of the hotel and the overall trip to be posted soon.
us im miami

New ValueTactics Blog Posts

Surprise Birthday Vacation to Miami Beach! is the post in which I revealed the secret trip I had been planning for months.  Nicoleen was blown away when I told her she would be lying in the sun on the beach on her birthday!

Now you’re updated. Go employ some Value Tactics!

Semi-Monthly Update (April 4, 2017)

In this post: an awesome credit card offer expiring tomorrow, our travel news and monthly points and miles round-up, some extreme free-after rebate sales at Menards, and more!

Credit Card News

Tomorrow (April 5th) is the last day for the elevated sign-up bonus on the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card.  The standard bonus on the Amex SPG card is 25k points or even lower.  The current bonus offer is for 25k points after spending $3k in the first 3 months, and an adidtional 10k points after spending an additional $2k in the first 6 months, for 35k bonus points.  Starwood points are some of the most valuable hotel points around, even beating out Hyatt on most points valuation lists.  Including the points earned with the regular spending to meet the bonus, new card holders will end up with 40k points.  That’s enough for 4 nights at the Westin Punta Cana, where VT readers Derek and Danie recently stayed.

Beach view at the Westin Punta Cana - 10,000 SPG points per night

Beach view at the Westin Punta Cana – 10,000 SPG points per night

I applied for the card last night and was instantly approved!
spg-approved

Here’s the link to the Flyertalk wiki with links to the application page.  THIS OFFER IS ONLY GOOD THROUGH APRIL 5th.  

Travel News

It’s been a busy few days of travel planning here at ValueTactics headquarters.

Today I booked a downtown Minneapolis hotel for a wedding Nicoleen and I have on Saturday evening.  We’re staying at the new Hampton Inn, which is currently ranked #1 of 49 hotels in Minneapolis on Tripadvisor.com.  The cash value of the stay is $110.02 and it cost us 20,000 Hilton points.  Expect a hotel review sometime after our stay!
hampton

I’ve also recently spent several hours planning our fall trip to somewhere warm with the kids.  (If you are a personal acquaintance DO NOT mention this to our kids!)  I’ll reveal details at a later date but I’ll give you this much.  We are staying 5 nights using only the bonus points from one card: the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier.  We’ll even have some points left over.

Household Points and Miles Activity for March

Between Nicoleen and I, here are the earnings and redemptions we made in March:

  • earned 948 hotel points
  • earned 114,282 Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • earned 2,653 Citi Thank-You points
  • earned 114 “other” points
  • redeemed 114 “other” points for $1.14 cash back from Capital One

Menards Free Stuff Update

It’s been a while since we’ve done a Menards update.  I’m still successfully resisting most of my urges to fill our garage and house full of free stuffVT reader Alex, on the other hand, is really ramping up his program!

When Alex sent me this photo I knew something big was brewing...

When Alex sent me this photo I knew something big was brewing…

When I stopped at Menards on Sunday I found out it was day three of a truly crazy “Crazy Days” sale.  There were 15 different free-after-rebate products on sale for a total quantity of 68 items.  The total retail value was $305.56!

As I explain on the Menards Free Stuff tactical page, sale cycles often overlap on Sundays.  Last Sunday was one such day, as the “Crazy Days” ad was ending and the “Menards Day Sale” flyer was just starting.  The Menards Day Sale goes until this Sunday, April 9th.  Here are the free-after-rebate deals from that sale that are currently available:
menards-day-sale

New ValueTactics Blog Posts

Card Review: Chase Hyatt is my review of the card that has largely fueled our last two free vacations: Hawaii back in September, and Costa Rica in February.  Check out the details on this super valuable card!

Now you’re updated. Go employ some Value Tactics!

Semi-Monthly Update (March 23, 2017)

In this update: an excuse (everybody loves those), a personal update, some credit card recommendations, recent travel news, and some reader success stories.

Personal News

This is the excuse.  I haven’t posted since the early March semi-monthly update I’m sorry about that.  I have plenty to write about, but it’s been hard to find any time to do so.  For new readers and those who don’t know me personally: for my day job I’m a forester.  My agency is the primary responsible entity in the state for wildfire suppression, and spring is the busy season.  Pretty much everything at work (and at home) gets put on hold until things green up.

The burning woods that kept my out until 4:00 AM this morning.

The burning woods that kept me out until 4:00 AM this morning.

In fact in 2015 I got so busy with work that I only uploaded 2 blog posts in a 7 week period.  I was so far behind I even wrote a post about how to pick up the pieces after a long hiatus.

Credit Card News

I was recently asked, “What’s the best single credit card for a small business?”  When I give my full response to the person, I will be recommending the new Chase Ink Business Preferred.  It’s similar to the Chase Ink Plus (read my full review of the Ink Plus here) but with a larger sign-up bonus (80,000 points).  You can no longer apply for the Ink Plus so the Business Preferred is currently the best Ultimate Reward earning business card.  While you wait for my review of the new business card, you can read about it and apply at the official Chase page for the Ink Business Preferred.

I have my eye on the SPG Amex card I mentioned in my previous update post.  I’m currently exploring other card options I might want to apply for at the same time as the Amex.  The 35,000 point bonus offer is only good through April 5th.

ValueTactics Readers are Winning

I’m always thrilled to see readers’ success stories!  Whether they learned the tactic on this site or elsewhere, I love hearing about people maximizing value and getting free stuff.  Here are some recent examples:

And finally, VT readers Derek and Danie recently returned back from their free vacation in the Dominican Republic.  I have seen some awesome pictures from their trip and I hope we can co-author a full review of the trip soon!
westin-teaser

Now you’re updated. Go employ some Value Tactics!

Semi-Monthly Update (March 03, 2017)

In this update: an awesome credit card offer, our monthly points activity report, a copycat vacation, one reader’s Menards ramp-up, and more!  (You always have to put “and more!” at the end of things like this.)

Let’s kick off this update with our household points and miles activity summary for February:

  • earned 6,408 airline miles
  • earned 3,945 Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • earned 2,198 Citi Thank-You points
  • received $300 in travel expense reimbursement from Nicoleen’s Chase Sapphire Reserve

Credit Card News

American Express has a strict but straight forward policy when it comes to card churning:  One sign-up bonus per card, per person, per lifetime.  This simplifies the decision on whether or not it’s a good time to get a particular Amex card.  Unless the bonus is at its highest known level, don’t get the card.  (Exception: if a card is being phased out and it’s your last chance to get a bonus on that card before it’s obsolete.)

Through April 5th the Amex SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) personal and business cards have elevated sign-up bonuses of 35,000 SPG points each.  This is an amazing bonus, considering how valuable SPG points are.  Each card has a different spending requirement to get the bonus, with the first 25,000 after an initial 3 months spend and the remaining 10,000 coming after additional spending in the first 6 months.  I am strongly considering applying for the personal card since these cards may not be around forever with the SPG/Marriott merger shaking out.

For more info on this current offer, check out the MillionMileSecrets article here.

Vacation News

ValueTactics readers Derek and Danie are currently enjoying a plagiarized paradise get-away.  They got free airfare and a free 3-night stay at a luxury Westin resort in the Caribbean.  Does this sound familiar to any of you regular readers?  🙂  That’s right, it’s eerily similar to the long weekend in Costa Rica Nicoleen and I just returned from.  Oh well, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then it’s mutual, since Derek is the one who got me started in the credit card game to begin with.

Morning coffee at the beautiful Westin, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

Morning coffee at the beautiful Westin, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

Hopefully I can convince Derek to let me write a post on their trip and the value tactics they used to travel for free!

New ValueTactics Blog Posts

Hotel Review – Andaz Peninsula Papagayo is my complete and lengthy review of the amazing property we stayed at last month.  Check out the review for lots of good pictures!
A long weekend in paradise . . .why not? is my trip review of our Costa Rica trip.  Read this post to find out how we planned this $3000+ vacation for under $300 in 2 hours . . . on a whim.  This one also has some great pictures from our trip.

Menards Free Stuff Update

As I reported in this post, I have severely tempered my use of the Menards free stuff tactic.  But that doesn’t mean my readers have.  ValueTactics reader Alex sent me these pictures:

alexfanatic2alexfanatic1

Looks like Alex is ramping up his program!  It confirms what I suspected after receiving this incriminating photo from him.  I can’t judge of course; I’ve also been guilty of ValueTactics fanaticism from time to time!

Now you’re updated. Go employ some Value Tactics!