Free Access to Consumer Reports Car Buying Guide

2000 AA miles for $14.95
2000 AA miles for $14.95

You’ve heard of magazines for miles?

How about miles for magazines?

The AAdvantage frequent flyer program of American Airlines has a new promo offer to earn 2,000 miles.

The offer involves signing up for a free 30-day trial of the Next Issue digital magazine service.  After your free trial, you can earn 2,000 AAdvantage miles if you subscribe to the service.

This is Not an Offer for 2,000 Free AAdvantage Miles!

I misread the offer and thought I could get 2,000 easy miles for signing up for Next Issue, after which I would cancel my subscription.  That is not the case.  You only earn the miles if you subscribe to the premium service for $14.95 a month, after your free trial ends.

Download the Next Issue app on iTunes
Download the Next Issue app on iTunes

I registered for the service, downloaded the Next Issue app, and took at look at the magazine offerings.

First up was the complete Consumer Reports 2016 Auto Guide.  I could access vehicle specs, crash test results, reliability data, ratings, and the results of the Consumer Reports road tests.  This is tremendously useful information for me as I am in the process of researching new cars.

Remember to cancel your registration before the 30-day trial ends or you will be charged $14.95.

If you want to spend $14.95 on a one month subscription, however, you can earn 2,000 AAdvanatage frequent flyer miles.  You can cancel your subscription at any time.

I’m Not Going to Subscribe to Next Issue

Next Issue allows you to read 100 popular magazines online or offline.

Current titles include People, US Weekly, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Time, GQ, Consumer Reports, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Parents, Dwell and dozens of others.  

Enjoy unlimited access to all the magazines you love — all in one app, for one low price — with Next Issue. Plus, earn 2,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® miles when you become a subscriber before October 1, 2015.

A subscription gives you access to past as well as current issue.

The service works on iPhones and iPads, Android phones and tablets, and Windows tablets and PCs.  I found it difficult to read magazine articles on my iPhone 5s — it’s just too small.  I don’t have a tablet, and the service won’t work on my Macbook, so I won’t be subscribing.

You can access the offer here.

Airfare Deals: Jumping But Not Biting

The School Calendar Rules Travel Time
We are no longer tied to the school calendar.

My daughter graduated from high school this June (hooray!), so we are entering a new phase of life.

For the first time in 13 years, our travel plans will not be dictated by the public school calendar.

As parents well know, travel during school breaks and over the summer is considered high season in terms of airfare and hotel rates.

Flights and hotel rooms are expensive and award availability is limited.  Parents with kids in school simply don’t have the same flexibility as free agents.

We are not quite empty nesters because my daughter is living at home while attending community college.   My husband is looking forward to retirement soon.   That will expand our opportunities for leisure travel.

There are lots of places we want to go, with Japan at the top of the list.

Bargain Flights are Back!

Have you noticed that the airwaves these days are filled with airfare deals?

My inbox and twitter feed are chock full of amazing airfare bargains.

Getting in on these deals requires you to act fast and to have schedule flexibility.

But the deals are fantastic!

  • $99 to Europe.
  • $500 roundtrip to Asia.
  • $19 for domestic flights.

Check out these recent offerings posted by The Flight Deal:

The Flight Deal is One Source for Bargain Fares
The Flight Deal is One Source for Bargain Fares

In terms of frequent flyer miles, I have a stash of American Airlines and United miles, as well as some British Airways and Southwest miles.

My strategy going forward is to spend down my miles balances and to focus on cash back opportunities.

Growing Your Travel Savings Account

Earlier this year, I opened Capital One’s Venture Card.  This card earns 2 times points on all purchases.  Rewards points can be redeemed for travel expenses.

I also opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card early this year.  This card earns 2 times Ultimate Rewards Points on restaurants and travel.  These points can be transferred to the several airline partners or cashed out for statement credits.

Cash Back is King

I plan to concentrate my spending on the Venture card, with the exception of most travel purchases that will go on the Sapphire card.  Cash back is still king, but Ultimate Rewards points can be used as miles or cash.

Both the Venture card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred card carry annual fees, which are waived the first year.  I have heard it is easy to get the fee waived on the Venture card.  That is not the case for the Sapphire Preferred, so I will probably will probably cancel that card when the fee comes due.

In the meantime, I will be accumulating points in my “travel savings accounts.”  These points are a lot more liquid than miles, it part because they are good for any bargain tickets you may grab, and also because partial redemptions are possible.

Has your points collection strategy changed, in light of the raft of cheap flights?

 

 

2 out of 3 Banks Rescind Annual Fees on My Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Keep Calm and Call the BankAre you averse to paying bank fees?

I enjoy the benefits of travel rewards credit cards but I do not like to pay hefty annual fees.

Many premium rewards credit cards waive the annual fee for the first year.

But when your one-year anniversary rolls around, the fee will post on your credit card statement.

Call the Bank to Request a Fee Waiver on Your Credit Card

Here’s a hint:

  • Don’t close your credit card account when the annual fee comes due without calling your bank first.
  • Ask the bank representative what incentives they can offer you to keep your account open.
  • Ask what other offers may be available so you can weigh all the options.

The banks spend a lot of money to recruit you as a customer.  They advertise on TV,  in magazines, and on websites.  They send out multiple mailers.  They pay affiliate commissions.  They offer refer-a-friend bonuses.  Moreover, many banks offer generous sign-up bonuses worth $400-500 or more.

The banks would lose all their “investment” in you if you close your account after the first year.

Ask and Ask Again

You might be surprised how generous some banks are and how anxious they are to keep you as a customer.

Before or after your annual fee posts, you can call the issuing bank and find out whether they are willing to waive the annual fee or offer points or other incentives for you to keep the account open.  Some banks have a grace period of 30 or 60 days after the annual fee posts during which you can cancel the card without paying the fee.  Check with your bank on their policy.

I had a number of anniversaries coming up on my cards this spring.  I called the banks, and here are the results.  These are just a few data points. Everyone’s credit and spending record are different and everyone may have different offers available.

Chase Bank Offers $95 Statement Credit on Ink Plus Business Card

I have had the Chase Ink Plus business credit card for just one year.  Before the annual fee posted, I called to inquire about retention bonuses.  Right off the bat I was offered a credit of $95 on my account to offset the $95 annual fee.  I accepted this offer.  I am happy to keep this credit card open because I find the five times Ultimate Rewards points it offers for office supply purchases to be quite valuable.

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Business Credit Card:  No Soap Radio

Another card I had with Chase was the Southwest Rapid Rewards Business Credit Card.  This card has an annual fee of $69 which comes with a 3,000 mile bonus.  In past years, Chase has offered me an extra 3,000 miles to keep this card open.  This year, I had no luck with an increased offer, and I closed the account.

Meanwhile, I will continue earning Chase Ultimate Reward points with the Ink Plus card, which can be transferred to Southwest Rapid Rewards points.

Barclays Bank Cancels the Fee on the AAdvantage Aviator Red Credit Card

When US Air merged with American Airlines, my Barclays US Air credit card became an American Airlines AAdvantage Aviator Red Card.  When I called Barclay’s, I was told that there would be no annual fee for the first year of the Aviator Red card, because it was a new product.  However, an $89 annual fee did post on my statement.   I called the bank again and they rescinded the fee.

I will keep the card open for the coming year, because it offers a ten percent rebate on flights booked with miles, discounted award tickets, and free checked bags for myself and my family.

Citibank American Airlines Card Offers 3,000 Miles

I have both the business and personal Citibank American Airlines Platinum Select cards.  I called Citibank to inquire about the grace period on my business Citibank American Airlines Platinum Select World MasterCard.  While I was at it, I asked if they had any special offers available.  Citibank offered me 3,000 miles just for asking!

When the annual fee came due, I called again but there were no retention offers available so I cancelled my business card.  I already have another American Airlines business credit card (see above) and did not see the need to keep two cards open.

A few weeks later I called Citibank to inquire about special offers for my personal American Airlines Platinum Select World MasterCard.  This time I was offered 3,000 miles, but I must spend $500 on the card within the next three months in order to receive the bonus.  They had several other offers available, but this seemed the least troublesome.   I will inquire about retention offers when the annual fee comes due.

Amex SPG Credit Card

Amex recently announced that it was raising the annual fee on its Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) credit cards from $65 a year to $95 a year.  My annual fee comes due in August, and I was told that the increased fee will not take effect at that time.  Even at $65 a year, I am hard pressed to justify paying an annual fee to Amex.

In years past, I have never gotten more than 1,000 SPG points for calling in.  When the annual fee posts I will decide what to do depending on which special offers are available.

* * *

Hey, two out of three banks ain’t bad!  If you would like to share your experience in the comments below, it will help other readers who are seeking fee waivers or other bonus offers.

Click here to compare current credit card offers.

Keep Your Frequent Flyer Miles Active with Thanks Again

Thanks Again Loyalty Program QR CodeThanks Again is a loyalty program that awards airline frequent flyer miles for parking and other purchases at 170 airports throughout the U.S.

If you sign up via BWI’s link, you can earn 100 airline miles or 200 hotel points for enrolling!  This enrollment bonus is valid through December 31, 2015.

Thanks Again allows you to automatically earn frequent flyer miles or hotel points when you park, shop and dine at BWI or any of the other participating airports, such as RDU, DCA, BOS, PIT, FWA, AUS, and dozens of others.

This is a great way to extend the expiration date on an inactive frequent flyer account, or to maintain steady activity on the account.

Thanks Again Bonus Rewards

Simply register one or more American Express, Visa, or MasterCard credit card and pair it with the rewards program of your choice.  You will automatically earn one  extra mile, or two extra hotel points, when you shop at any of 24,000 participating locations.  This is on top of any other points you are earning with the card.

Real big spenders earn 5x miles or 10x points if they spend $1,000 in a calendar quarter.  

 Thanks Again Participating Loyalty Programs

 Airlines
  • AeroMexico Club Premier
  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  • American AAdvantage
  • Delta SkyMiles
  • Frontier EarlyReturns
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • United MileagePlus
  • US Airways Dividend Miles

 Hotel Programs

  • Hilton HHonors
  • VOILÀ Hotel Rewards
  • Wyndham Rewards

Have you tried Thanks Again?

My End of Year Bonus Points Haul

IMG_3032Some generous bonus offers in the last quarter of 2014 have boosted the balance of frequent flyer miles and hotel points in some of my favorite programs, and should help fund travel in 2015.

15,000 American Airlines AAdvantage Miles

I earned 7,500 AAdvantage miles for test driving a Cadillac, and 7,500 miles for two stays at Radisson hotels, for a total of 15,000 bonus miles.  The test drive  was actually a fun time, because I got to experience the Cadillac’s electric vehicle, with an $82,000 price tag, no less.

11,000 United MileagePlus Miles

The United Mileage Plus dining program was offering 10,000 bonus miles for ten dines at restaurants in the rewards dining program.

I purchased gift cards for some of my favorite restaurants, which earned me 3-5 times points per purchase, for a total haul of 11,000 miles.  I can spread out the dines over a number of months next year.  A number of the restaurants were offering bonus coupons with the gift card purchases — a nice additional incentive.

30,000 Club Carlson Gold Points

I had two nights paid stays at Radisson hotels which yielded 40 times bonus points thanks to a double points offer, plus 6,000 points for booking the two reservations via the mobile app, for a total of 20,000  points.

The Club Carlson Visa was also offering an extra 5,000 points for restaurant purchases, above their normal 5x points, so I earned an additional 10,000 Club Carlson gold points for participating in the United Dining Rewards program bonus offer.

Were you able to take advantage of any year-end bonus offers?

Does 60x Club Carlson Points Make You Swoon?

Club Carlson's Weekdays Triple Points Offer
Club Carlson’s Weekdays Triple Points Offer

I recently enjoyed a fabulous award stay at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway in New York City.

As a Club Carlson credit card holder, I was eligible for the stay one night, get one night free deal on award stays, so the cost of my two-night stay was 50,000 Club Carlson points.

I enjoyed the hotel so much that I am looking for ways to replenish my points account!

Stacking Club Carlson Promos

Club Carlson is always running a bunch of promo offers and special rates.  Each offer applies to a select list of hotels and you need to read the fine print to make sure you qualify.  Sometimes, it is possible to stack promos, so that your earn bonus points on several offers with the same reservation.

The tricky thing is that the special offer may not always be the best rate.

Club Carlson is currently running a 3,000 point bonus if you book your stay using their mobile app through November 16, 2014.  This is good for up to three bookings, for a total of potentially 9,000 points.

Club Carlson is also running a promo for 7,500 American Advantage points if you book two stays at participating Radisson Hotels.

You can combine these offers with the “Business Time Triple Points” offer to boost your points earnings.

Would you rather earn 3x times points (equivalent to 60x points for cardholders) or get 30 percent off your stay?

You really have to play around with the promo codes and look at all the rates options and offers to find the best deal.

Sometimes, the most advantageous rate of all may be the old, reliable AAA discount.

60x Gold Points on Weekday Stays

You can earn triple Club Carlson points when you stay at select Radisson Hotels and Country Inns & Suites on weekdays.

Try using the promo code BIZTIME3 for Sunday through Thursday nights at participating hotels now through November 30, 2014.

With this promo code, you can earn 40 Bonus Gold Points® per dollar spent on room nights. These bonus Points are in addition to the standard 20 Gold Points per dollar spent on eligible stays, for a total of 6o Gold Points per dollar.

There is a long list of properties in the U.S. and in some Latin American Countries that are participating in this promotion.

Stay Two Nights, Get Third Night Free on Weekends

Club Carlson's Weekend Extender
Club Carlson’s Weekend Extender Promo — Stay two nights, get third night free

If you are traveling on the weekend, be sure to check if your hotel may be eligible for Club Carlson’s Weekend Extender promotion.  You pay for two nights but you stay for three!

Book your three day weekend using the promo code  WEEKENDX for extended weekend stays at participating hotels now through November 30, 2014.  The stay must include a combination of either a Friday and Saturday night, or a Saturday and Sunday night.

Continue reading —>

15 is My Limit on Schnitzengruben, ahem, Rewards Credit Cards

Fifteen is my Limit
Fifteen is my limit . . .

I love to read those silly What’s in My Wallet blog posts.  I guess it’s because before I got into points and miles, I would not have believed that you could open an insane number of rewards credit cards without ruining your credit.

It does raise some questions, though:

  • How could the banks keep extending you credit?
  • How many times can you earn big bonuses?
  • How do you remember which card to use for which purchases?
  • How could you possibly keep track of all those credit cards without missing a payment?

15 is My Limit on Schnitzengruben, I mean Credit Cards

I recently counted 14 credit cards in my wallet from five different banks.  That is crazy!  I don’t recommend that for anyone.

Miss a single payment and you will be socked with a $35 fee and a major ding to your credit score.

With fourteen active credit card accounts, it is taking too much of my time to track expenses and pay the bills.  Let’s face it; my office is cluttered and my wallet barely closes.

I am looking to thin out my collection.

Rewards Credit Cards Aren’t for Everyone

Travel rewards credit cards aren’t for everybody.

First off, you need to have a stellar credit score to be eligible for the best offers.

Most people prefer to carry only one or two cards, to simplify things and minimize the hassle.  There is merit to this approach, particularly if you are disorganized and don’t keep current with paying your bills.

A perfectly reasonable strategy is to earn free travel is to focus on one airline or one type of flexible rewards such as Chase Ultimate Rewards points or cash back travel cards like the Capitol One Venture Card, or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®.

But if you have a credit score in the excellent range, and you pay your bills on time and in full every month, rewards credit cards can be incredibly lucrative.

Once you have experienced the large bonus offers for opening a new credit card, which can be worth $500 or more, it is easy to get sucked into to opening more and more accounts to earn free travel.

Know Your Credit Score

FICO credit score
Barclay’s Offers Free Access to Your Transunion Credit Score

From personal experience, I have watched my credit score progressively improve the further along I got in this game.  Barclay’s bank offers its credit card customers free access to their official FICO credit score once every three months.

My most recent FICO score is 837, with 14 open accounts, and five additional credit card accounts that I have closed in the past year or so.

That is because my credit line has increased dramatically with all these cards, and my monthly spending is just a small fraction of the available credit.

The banks appear willing to extend me credit well beyond my annual income.  Be careful.  Like with the mortgage crisis, a lot of people get in debt over their heads from credit cards and can’t make the payments, or end up paying exorbitant amounts of interest, at rate as high as 28 percent annually.

This much is clear:  the banks are making plenty of money, but probably not from people like me.

Starting Out with Rewards Credit Cards:  The Chase Freedom Card

When I started my environmental consulting business 15 years ago, I opened the Chase Freedom credit card in order to keep my business expenses separate from my personal expenses.  Chase Freedom is a personal, not a business credit card but I was using it for business purposes.  It carries no annual fee, and earns 5x rewards on select categories of spending.  This is a card that I would highly recommend for someone just starting out.  The points can be taken as cash back on your next statement, or used as Ultimate Rewards Points.  Ultimate Rewards Points are quite flexible and can be transferred to many airline and hotel loyalty programs but you need to have one of the premium credit cards from Chase to enable transfers.

If you are just starting out with travel hacking, the Chase Freedom card is a great place to begin because you can earn cash back or travel rewards, depending on your needs.  Because the card has no annual fee, you can keep it forever, thus increasing the length of your credit history over time.   This card earns 1x points on all purchases, and 5x points on select categories, that vary each quarter on up to $1500 of purchases per quarter.  Generally, the 5x points is good for gas purchases for six months of the year.  This spring, the card offered 5x points on restaurants, and sometimes you can get 5x points on Amazon.com, Lowes, or Kohls.

Right now, Chase is offering a $100 bonus for new applications, but I have seen this bonus go as high as $200 after spending $500 on initial purchases within three months.  From time to time there is an extra $25 incentive for adding an authorized user to your account.  There are cards with bigger bonuses but they usually entail annual fees and larger initial spending requirements.

Pick a Card, Any Card!

Whenever I show anyone what credit cards are in my real wallet, they look at me like I am crazy.  I often get looks as I fumble through my wallet looking for the card that earns bonus points at this store or that.

Because I run a small business, I am eligible to apply for business credit cards.  This allow me to “double dip” on account bonuses.  I travel for both business and personal reasons and must keep my expenses separate for tax purposes.  I caution you that business cards can only be used for genuine business expenses and they lack some of the consumer protections of personal credit cards.

What’s in My Wallet?

Here’s a quick rundown of what is in my wallet and why, and which cards are candidates for culling.

Chase Rewards Credit Cards

Quicken Rewards, personal  (authorized user):  The credit card I’ve had the longest is the Quicken Card issued by Chase Bank.  We opened this card over 15 years ago because at the time, it was the one of the few cards that allowed you to download your statements into the Quicken personal accounting software.  The Quicken Rewards card pays cash back rewards and carries no annual fee.  This cash back card pays 2x drugstores, restaurants, and office supply stores, and 1x points on other purchases.  Redemptions for airline tickets can be worth up to 1.25 cents per point, but only if you redeem at the top of a price bracket, e.g. a $500 ticket for 40,000 points.  This is a keeper.

Freedom, personal:  I love the Chase Freedom card because I can earn 5x points on practical things like gas and restaurants and there is no annual fee.  It is a keeper because it pads my Ultimate Rewards point balance, and contributes to the length of my credit history, which is a factor that improves my credit score.

Ink Plus, business:  The Chase Ink Plus is my primary business credit card.  When I opened the card, I earned 50K Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 in 3 months.  This card pays 5x points at office supply stores and on telecommunications and 2 points on gas stations and hotels.  The points easily transfer to Amtrak, Southwest Airlines, and United — three of my preferred carriers.  Chase offered me a fabulous retention offer which I declined, but I plan to keep the card open.

Ink Bold, business:  This is a charge card, not a credit card.  The differences is that balances must be paid off every month.  I opened this card for my blog business in June 2014 when there was a special bonus offer of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 in three months.  This card has a $95 annual fee which is waived the first year.  This card has the same bonus categories as the Ink Plus.  The usual bonus is 50K points.

Southwest Rapid Rewards, business:  I opened the Southwest Rapid Rewards card for the 50,000 mile bonus.  That is an offer that rolls around every couple of months. Southwest claims that you can get two roundtrip flights for 50K miles, and that has been my experience.  The Southwest Rapid Rewards card has a $69 annual fee that is not waived the first year.  You get 3,000 bonus miles every subsequent year.  Last year, I was offered an additional 3,000 points as a retention bonus, and this year I received this offer again!  I highly recommend the Southwest Rapid Rewards card for budget domestic travelers because of the excellent availability of award tickets on Southwest Airlines.

United Mileage Plus Explorer, personal (authorized user):  This is my husband’s card.  He opened it because there was a targeted offer for 50,000 miles.  The card carries an annual fee of $95 which is waived the first year.  When the fee came due, he was offered a retention bonus of 15,000 miles which offset the annual fee, and then some.

Barclays Reward Credit Cards

Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard®, personal:  I have the no annual fee version of the Barclaycard Arrival.  I opened it because of a targeted offer for 40,000 bonus miles and the ongoing benefits including 2x points on restaurant and travel spending.  You get a ten percent rebate on your travel redemptions, so this card effectively pays 2.2 percent cash back.  I love the access to my free credit score and the free TripIt Pro subscription.  The card now pays a bonus of 20,000 miles for new applicants.  This is another keeper.

The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®, personal:  I opened this card because it offered me 35,000 miles after making a single purchase.  There is an $89 annual fee which is waived the first year.  My version of the card awarded 10,000 bonus miles on your anniversary.  It has a number of additional benefits such as one free checked bag for up to four family members, a free lounge pass, and 5,000 fewer miles needed for reward tickets.  With this card, you can get 2 companion passes for $99 each, but there are  lots of strings attached.  I just received the 10,000 mile annual bonus.  I called to cancel the card because I did not want to pay the annual fee.  This card currently pays a 40,000 mile bonus after the first purchase, but does not offer the annual 10,000 bonus points.  It has an $89 annual fee which is waived the first year.

US Airways Dividend Miles, business:  I opened this card by “accident.”  I had applied for a different version of the US Airways card, but was informed that that it was not possible to have two different personal cards.  I was able to switch my application to this business card, and earn 25,000 Dividend Miles upon the first purchase.  The annual fee of $89 is waived the first year.

Continue reading —>

Maximize Your Minimums with MasterCard Gift Cards at Staples

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 8.37.17 PM

I’m currently working toward meeting the minimum spend requirement on a new Citi AAdvantage small business credit card.

If I spend $3000 within the first three months, I will earn a 50,000 mile bonus.

$3,000 is not an easy reach for me, so I am always on the lookout for special opportunities.

How to Maximize Your Minimums

The Citi AAdvantage business card offers a number of spending categories that earn bonus points.  These include two miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases  and on purchases at certain office office supply stores, telecommunications, and car rentals, and one mile on all other purchases.  Other cards, like the Chase Ink cards pay a five times bonus at office supply stores.  

Obviously, if I can focus my shopping on these bonus categories, I will earn the most miles for meeting the minimum spend requirement.

For me, that means shopping at office supply stores like Staples.  Last week, I got a good deal on an iTunes card at Staples.  This week, I stocked up on toilet paper that was on sale there.  Next week, starting Sunday April 27, 2014, there’s a rebate offer on MasterCard gift cards.

 $20 Rebate on MasterCard Gift Cards

Staples is offering a $20 rebate on the purchase of $300 worth of MasterCard gift cards.

My plan is to buy three $200 gift cards.  The cards have a steep fee of $6.95 each, so if I buy three, I will be paying $21 in fees.  The $20 rebate will offset most of these costs.

These cards come with a PIN number, so they can be loaded onto a Bluebird card at Walmart.

I’ll need to get to the Staples store early before these cards sell out.   If I am successful, I’ll be $600 and 1,200 miles closer to meeting the minimum spend requirement.

Hat tip to Big Habitat.

Click here to compare current rewards credit card offers.