Amex SPG Surprise Retention Bonus

Amex Retention Bonus
It never hurts to ask.

Amex has been bending over backwards lately to encourage me to keep my Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) business credit card open.

I had been set to cancel the card when the annual fee went up from $65 per year to $95.

But American Express has been wooing me back with special offers.

First, I received a targeted offer for 5,000 bonus points if I spent $5000 on the card, and 10,000 bonus points if I spend $10,000.

Ordinarily, those spending thresholds would be far out of reach.

But thanks to a number of concurrent Amex Offers, that provide statement credits for purchases at popular vendors, such as Staples and Home Depot, I hope to qualify for these bonus points.

Amex SPG Surprise Retention Bonus

Amex is reluctant to waive the annual fee on their SPG credit cards, but it never hurts to ask!

In my case, after talking to a customer service representative, I was transferred to a “loyalty representative.”

The second representative offered me a $25 statement credit if I agreed to keep my credit card account open.  That doesn’t bring the annual fee down to the original $65, but it is close.

I believe I can more than offset the $70 fee with rebates via “Amex Offers,” but it remains to be seen what the offers will be in the coming months.  I can usually take advantage of offers for pet food or groceries, and Amex has has been pushing a number of travel offers lately.

Have you snagged a retention bonus for an Amex card?

Remember, it never hurts to ask!

Hack My Wallet: Gift Card Edition

The anti-giftcard giftcard
The anti-giftcard giftcard

I hate gift cards.

I think gift cards make terrible presents — Cash is a much better gift!

  • The unspent balances and fees on gift cards make a tidy profit for the people selling them.
  • Spending gift cards causes delays at the checkout counter.
  • Returns are more difficult with gift card purchases.
  • Gift cards can be lost or stolen.

There are a million more reasons why I hate gift cards, but that is a topic for another post.

This post is about each of the gift cards I have in my wallet right now, and why.

Staples Visa Gift Card — Value $20

I got this card from Staples as a rebate for purchasing $300 in Visa gift cards during a promotion.  Every few weeks, Staples runs a promotion on Visa gift cards, with a rebate that offsets the card purchase fees.  Sometimes, the rebate is in the form of a Staples gift card that must be spent at Staples.  This Staples Visa gift card is a cash equivalent that can be spent anywhere.

Clydes Gift Cards — Value $50

Amex was running a special promotion where you could get a $5 credit for a $25 purchase at various Washington area restaurants.    I purchased two $25 gift cards at Clydes, one with my Amex SPG credit card, and one with my Amex Bluebird card.  Clydes is my favorite restaurant so I know these gift cards will be put to good use.

Tara Thai Gift Card — Value $45

Tara Thai is a fabulous restaurant that participates in the Rewards Dining Program. I purchased this gift card when United Mileage Plus Dining was running a special promotion.  The gift card gives me the flexibility to participate in the promotion offer, while delaying my actual dine until a more convenient time.  I ended up missing the deadline for meeting the terms of the promotion, so I just earned 5 times Ultimate Rewards Points on this.

Lonestar Steakhouse Gift Card — Value $40

Lonestar Steakhouse is another participant in the Rewards Dining Program.   I think when I picked up this gift card I had it confused with Texas Roadhouse.  Lonestar Steakhouse is pretty far from where we live so we’ll have to go out of our way to use this.

Whole Foods Gift Card — Value $6.70

Amex Offers was offering a $15 statement credit for a $75 purchase at Whole Foods.  By purchasing a gift card, I am able to earn the credit, while redeeming for small purchases at Whole Foods at my leisure.

Home Depot Gift Card — Value $100

I purchase Home Depot gift cards at Staples using a Chase Ink card that pays 5 times points on all purchases at office supply stores.  I give the gift cards to our contractor to purchase supplies for our home renovation.

Amazon Gift Cards — $100

I picked up an Amazon gift card at Office Depot recently, where I earn 5 times points on my Chase Ink card.  My daughter started college recently and we purchase some of her textbooks on Amazon.

Home Improvement Gift Card — $200

This is another Office Depot purchase.  Home Improvement Gift Cards are sold without a fee, and can be used at either Lowes or Home Depot, as well as a number of other stores.

Starbucks Gift Card — $32

I purchase Starbucks gift cards at Staples and load them to my iPhone.  I usually pick up something from Starbucks if there is an outlet in the airport.

Exxon Gift Cards — $100

Currently, I am putting my gas purchases on my Chase Freedom credit card because of the quarterly 5 times bonuses on gas purchases.  I purchased these  Exxon gift cards at Office Depot, but won’t use them until October when the Chase Freedom bonus categories change.

CVS — $10

Honestly I can’t remember where I obtained a paper gift card worth $10 at any CVS drugstore.  It will be a miracle if I remember to use it!  I do know that some Office Depot stores sell CVS gift cards.

What’s in My Wallet?  $700 Worth of Gift Cards

I totalled up these various gift cards and am appalled to report that I am carrying around $700 worth of gift cards.  That is overkill, for sure.

First off it is way too much cash equivalent to have in my purse.

Second, that is an awful lot of money to have tied up in gift cards rather than earning interest in the bank.

It is just as necessary to keep tabs on your gift cards as it is on your bank account or credit card balances.  It looks like I need to be more deliberate about slimming down my wallet!

Are Gift Card Purchases Worth It?

Let’s tote up the bonuses I earned on these gift cards.

  • Ultimate Reward points:  4,160 points
  • Amex statement credits:  $25
  • United Mileage Plus miles: 425 miles

This is pretty small potatoes.  After accounting for the time and gas spent driving around to purchase these gift cards, you might conclude that its not worth stuffing your wallet with gift cards, remembering to use them, and holding up the checkout line for such trivial bonuses.

On the other hand, you might find that small bonuses add up to big rewards if you consistently pursue all opportunities.

Where do you come down?  Are gift cards part of your miles and points strategy?

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.

Rocking This Month’s Safeway Gift Card Promo

Safeway Gift Card Promo 9/2014
Safeway Gift Card Promo 9/2014

Most every month, Safeway has been running some sort of gift card promotion.  This month’s promo looks to be a pretty good deal.

If you purchase two Visa or MasterCard variable load gift cards, you get a coupon for $15 off your next purchase at Safeway.  (There is a minimum purchase requirement of  $25 on your next purchase.)

My usual routine is to purchase the gift cards first, and then do my grocery shopping, so I don’t have to worry about the coupon expiring or losing track of it.

I purchased two Visa gift cards and loaded them with $500 apiece.  There is a purchase fee of $5.95 each.  The net value of the rebate is just $3.10 ($15.00 – 11.90), but I was able to earn points on my Amex Starwood card for the purchase.

The offer runs from September 10, 2014 through October 7, 2014.

Ann Arbor, Michigan on Miles and Points

Ann Arbor Street Art Fair 2014
Ann Arbor Street Art Fair 2014 Poster

I graduated from the University of Michigan, and haven’t been back to Ann Arbor in years.  The winters there could be pretty harsh, but the summers were beautiful.

When I heard about the Ann Arbor Art Fair Do, I thought it would be a good opportunity to check out my old stomping grounds, see some good friends, take in the art fair, and hang with miles and points enthusiasts.

What is a Do?

When frequent flyers get together for an informal gathering, they call it a “do.”   The Ann Arbor do is a relatively small gathering that features several guest speakers.

Who is Drew?

The guest speakers at the 2014 Ann Arbor Art Fair Do will be Drew who blogs at Travel is Free and his wife Carrie whose blog is Freakin Flyers.  Drew and Carrie have been traveling long-term for practically nothing, and should have a lot of stories to share.  Tahsir Ahsan, aka the Bengali Miles Guru, writes for Hack My Trip and will be speaking on rental cars and how to manufacture points and miles.

The “do” is an annual event organized by a guy who calls himself “Bikeguy” on the Flyertalk forum.  As a relative newcomer to this hobby, I hope to pick up some tips and tricks from the veterans coming from around the Midwest and elsewhere.

What to Do in Ann Arbor

The big event of the week will be the Ann Arbor Art Fair, which is a street fair of juried artists and craftspeople near the campus of the University of Michigan.  The event has grown in recent years to encompass four concurrent art fairs all over town.  There will be entertainment as well as fine arts and crafts.

Robert Own Coop
Robert Owen Coop
Photo by Inter-Cooperative Council

Since this trip is a “reunion” of sorts, I want to visit some of my favorite places on and off campus like the Dana building and the Inter-cooperative Council houses where I lived.  I hear Lenny Bruce coop is long gone, but Robert Owen coop is still going strong.  I also want to stop by Dominick’s Italian cafe, where I waitressed one summer.

I’ll be on the lookout for urban fairy doors in the downtown area, something that I find very intriguing.  I’m looking forward to spending a day with my friends at Pickerel Lake, a small undeveloped lake about 20 miles from Ann Arbor.

Where to Stay in Ann Arbor

This is a miles and points conference and I am using points to get to Michigan.  I have reservations on Southwest, where my nonstop flights price out at 6,500 Rapid Rewards points each way.  Curiously, the nonstop flights on this route require fewer points than tickets involving plane changes.

I earned these points through a combination of flying Southwest, and making purchases on my Chase Southwest credit card.  There is currently a promotion for the card which offers a 50,000 point bonus after spending $2,000 in the first three months, with an annual fee of $69.  The Southwest credit card is an outstanding deal for budget domestic travelers, and award seat availability on Southwest is very good.

The Ann Arbor Art Fair draws several hundred thousand visitors so hotel rooms are at a premium.  I used Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points to book a room at the Sheraton Ann Arbor for the points and cash rate of 3,500 points and $55 per night.  This hotel is located several miles from campus in hotel row near the Briarwood mall.  There is an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, and they offer a shuttle for local transportation.

The Palmer House Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
The Palmer House Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

By using the points, I am saving about $100 per night.  I earned these points by opening the Amex SPG credit card and making purchases on the card.  Through the end of June, this card has a sign-up bonus of 30,000 points, after spending $5,000 in a six month period.  The annual fee of $65 is waived the first year.  If a friend refers you for the card, they will earn a 5,000 point bounty.  (Let me know if you would like a referral.)  

Frank Lloyd Wright House on VRBO

In looking for a place to stay for the weekend, I came across the Palmer House, a beautifully preserved house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, complete with all the original Wright furniture.  The house sits on two acres overlooking the University of Michigan Arboretum.

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Three Ways to Offset the Amex SPG Annual Fee

images77If you don’t study your online credit card statement carefully, you could be missing out on some juicy promos.

Several months ago, I wrote about the dilemma I was facing over whether to close my Amex Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) credit card when the $65 annual fee came due.  Ultimately, I decided to keep the card open, and accepted Amex’s retention offer of 1,000 SPG points.  

There were several factors that played into my decision:

  1. I had two other Amex accounts that I planned to close when the annual fees posted.
  2. I I wanted to retain my full credit line with Amex, by transferring the credit from the closed credit cards to an open account.
  3. I hoped to accumulate more SPG points over the course of the year, that I could transfer to various airlines to top off my frequent flyer accounts.
  4. I was close to reaching the 20,000 point threshold, when transfers to airlines earn a 5,000 point bonus.

Amex currently has targeted deals offering statement credits for over a dozen promos.  If you click on the “Offers for You” tab, you will be directed to up to a dozen targeted offers for savings off various purchases.

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Planning a Trip to Vermont on Points and Miles

Vermont Academy, Saxton's River, Vermont
Vermont Academy, Saxton’s River, VT
Image by M. McCardle

We are headed up to southern Vermont this weekend for a family get together.

The leaves should be at their peak, and we are looking forward to visiting rural New England.

This is an costly trip for us, so we will try to use points and miles to mitigate the expense.

We are using a Southwest Visa credit card for most of our expenses because we are participating in a holiday promotion to earn bonus points.

The major elements of the trip are:  

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