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.

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U.S. Airways Companion Certificates: Good Luck Taking Advantage of This Perk!

U.S. Airways and Barclay’s bank have a new offer out for the The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®.  It’s a pretty good offering, with 40,000 dividend miles awarded after the first use of the the card.  There is an $89 annual fee, which is not waived the first year, but there is no minimum spend requirement to earn the 40,000 mile bonus.

The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®: 40,000 points, No minimum spend

The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® comes with alot of ancillary perks, including a free checked bag for you and up to four traveling companions on domestic flights.  That alone is worth the price of the annual fee in my book, particularly for families traveling with children.  The regular fee to check a bag is $25 each way.

One of the other highly touted benefits is the option to purchase two companion certificates for $99 each, plus taxes and fees.

US Airways Premier World Master Card

I opened a U.S. Airways credit card last summer, and I was looking forward to using the companion certificates to take my family on a trip.  The deal was, if you purchase a ticket for $250 or more, you can buy two companion tickets for $99 each.  So I figured, for $450, my family of three could visitour far-flung family or take a vacation.  I wish I could tell you that’s what happened.

The companion certificate had so many strings attached that we were unable to take advantage of it before it expired.

If you are highly organized and plan your travel well in advance, you may be able to get some value out of the $99 companion fares, but be aware of the restrictions.

Whereby We Read the Fine Print on the US Airways Companion Certificates So You Don’t Have To

These are the biggies:

Domestic Travel Only.  The certificates are only good for travel in the 48 United States or Canada.  You cannot use them for travel to Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico, or to any other country.

Roundtrip Fares Only.  Certificates cannot be applied to one-way travel, and they are not valid on stopovers, open jaws, open returns, or circle trips.

Tickets must be purchased 14 days in advance.  A minimum two night stay is required.  A maximum 30 day stay is permitted.

$250+ Fares Only.   The companion certificates can only be used when the paid fare is $250 or more.  The $250 is the base fare only.  If your fare is $250 including taxes and fees, it doesn’t qualify.  You pay taxes and fees on the base fare, and the $99 companion certificates are also subject to taxes and fees.  Your full fare will be $280 to $300 depending on whether it is for U.S. or Canadian travel. 

Time Limited.  After you have opened The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®, and made an initial purchase, you have nine months in which to purchase your tickets, and travel must be completed within the next three months.

In 2014, there are 28 blackout dates when you cannot use the certificates.  These include many holiday weekends and other popular travel times.  There are further restrictions in certain markets limiting travel to and from Mardi Gras, the Kentucky Derby, the Superbowl, and the NCAA Final Four.

US Airways $99 Companion Certificate
US Airways $99 Companion Certificate

The remaining blackout dates in 2014 are:

  • May 22,23
  • June 19, 20, 22, 26, 27
  • July 6, 7, 27
  • August 3
  • October 10, 19
  • November 30
  • December 1, 19, 20, 26, 27, 28

Here are the other less onerous rules:

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How I Ended Up with a Lousy 25K Bonus Miles from a US Airways Credit Card

U.S. Airways Dividend Miles CardLast month, on my US Airways flight back home from North Carolina the in-flight magazine had an ad for a US Airways credit card issued by Barclay’s with a 40K mile bonus.  The ad said to ask the flight attendant for an application, but on the short flight, I never had the opportunity.  There are so many different offers out there for what appear to be the same product, that sometimes it is hard to know what’s what. US Airways cards in particular will sometimes advertise a 40K bonus miles offer, which really turns out to be a 30K offer.  The offers are changing all the time so you really have to read the fine print.

Applying for a U.S. Airways Dividend Miles Card with a 40K Mile Bonus

I have been looking for ways to boost my kitty of US Airways dividend miles for a family trip. When I returned home I went searching for the offer I had seen advertised.

I found an application link for an a Dividend Miles credit card that paid 40k bonus miles after the first purchase.  There was an $89 annual fee, that was not waived the first year.  The card came with all kinds of other benefits, but it was really the bonus miles I was after.

I don’t like to pay an annual fee, but sometimes it is more practical than getting a card with a high minimum spend requirement.  Meeting a minimum might cause you to spend more money than you might have otherwise, or to stock up on gift cards just to meet the minimum spend requirement.

To make a long story short, I applied for the card and my application was denied.

I was told I was ineligible because I already had a different version of the U.S. Airways credit card, and that Barclay’s only allowed you to have one personal U.S. Airways card.  So rather than incur a ding on my credit rating for no obvious benefit, I decided to apply for the business version of the card, which came with 25K bonus miles after the first purchase, and an $89 annual fee that was not waived the first year.  Happily, I was approved for that card, have already received it in the mail, and have made my first purchase.

The business version of the card does not have all of the features of the personal card, such as the option for a free companion pass, or the ability to redeem flights for 5,000 fewer miles.  However, these are features of the personal card that I already have.

Yesterday, Barclay’s came out with a new offer for the US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®, which offers 40K bonus points after the first purchase.  

New Offer for the US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®

Here are the details of the latest December 2014 offer:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after your first purchase and payment of the $89 annual fee*
  • First checked bag free on eligible bags for you and up to four companions on domestic US Airways operated flights
  • One companion certificate good for up to 2 guests to travel with you on a US Airways operated flight at $99 each, plus taxes and fees
  • Priority boarding Zone 2 on US Airways operated flights
  • Redeem miles for award travel on US Airways and American Airlines booked through usairways.com or US Airways Reservations
  • Earn miles on every purchase with 2 miles for every $1 you spend on US Airways purchases and 1 mile for every $1 on purchases everywhere else
  • Please see terms and conditions for complete details

One caution is that the companion certificate comes with a number of limitations.  For instance, there are blackout dates around popular travel times and other conditions that may sharply limit the utility of the certificate.

If you are looking for ways to boost your Dividend Miles balance, I would certainly recommend the personal version of the card over the business version.  Live and learn!

Click here to compare current rewards credit card offers.

Which Cash Back Credit Card is Best for Priceline Purchases?

southwest  credit card bwi

Would you buy a used car(d)
from this woman?

I call myself the Priceline Queen, so I thought it would be fun to do a little analysis of which credit card is best for Priceline purchases.

On the face of it you might guess that The Priceline Rewards™ Visa® Card is the best bet, but that is not always the case.

For purposes of this analysis, I focused on three cash back, no annual fee credit cards issued by Barclays.

The three contenders are:

  • Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard®
  • The Priceline Rewards™ Visa® Card
  • Upromise World MasterCard®

Ultimately, I decided not to publish the quantitative analysis, because the results were completely dependent on the hypothetical assumptions.  It makes more sense for you to consider your individual spending patterns.

Instead, I prepared a comprehensive table comparing the three options, considering the pros and cons of each of these cash-back, no annual fee credit cards from Barclay’s Bank.

In Brief

The Priceline Rewards™ Visa® Card pays 5 percent cash back on all Priceline purchases, and it offers a $100 bonus for new applicants, after spending $1,000.

The Upromise World MasterCard® pays 3x points on gas purchases at Exxon/Mobil and 5 percent cash back on online purchases via the Upromise shopping portal, plus an additional 5 percent or so depending on the vendor, and it offers a $50 bonus after the first purchase.  A ten percent payout on many travel purchases sounds pretty good, if you have faith that the Upromise shopping portal will pay out benefits.  That’s a big if!

The Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® offers a $200 bonus after you make $1,000 of purchases within the first three months.  It pays 2x points on all travel and restaurant purchases, and you earn back 10 percent of the points your redeem for travel expenses.

You can shop through the Upromise shopping portal using any credit card, but only the Upromise World MasterCard® pays the extra five percent.

Upromise is for Everyone

You don’t have to be a college student or the parent of a college student to take advantage of the Upromise savings program.  Rebates from the credit card and the Upromise shopping portal are available to anyone registered with the program.  You can request a check when your rewards balance is $10 or more.  The catch is that you have to remember to go through the Upromise shopping portal, and that shopping portals are not always reliable in issuing the promised rebate.

Table Comparing Three No Annual Fee Cash Back Cards

This table is large, so please click through to see the complete analysis.

ATTRIBUTES
BARCLAYCARD ARRIVAL
PRICELINE CREDIT CARD
UPROMISE CREDIT CARD
BASICS & FEES
Credit neededExcellentExcellentExcellent
APR - Interest rate0% APR for 1st 12 billing cycles; then, APR of 14.99% or 18.99% based on credit worthiness. 0% APR for 1st 12 billing cycles; then, APR of 14.99% or 20.99% based on credit worthiness. 0% APR for 1st 12 billing cycles; then, APR of 12.99% or 20.99% based on credit worthiness.
Annual fee$0$0$0
Foreign transaction fee0%3%3%
Card brandWorld MasterCardWorld MasterCardVisa Signature
INITIAL BONUS
Initial bonus points05,000$50 after first use
Minimum spend for bonus points$1,000$1000 in 1st 90 daysUse card within first 90 days
Bonus points awarded for meeting minimum spend20,000 5,000
Total bonus points after meeting minimum spend20,000 = $200 statement credit toward travel expenses10,000 = $100 statement credit$50 rebate
REWARDS EARNING STRUCTURE
Earn rate2x points on restaurants and all travel expenses; 1x points on everything else. 5x points on "eligible" Priceline.com purchases; 1x points on everything else.5% off on online purchases at Upromise.com; 3% off gas at Exxon/Mobile; 2% off movie theaters; 1% off everything else.
Bonus earnings10% bonus points on travel redemptionsNone, but could shop through Upromise or other online portal for extra savings.

Earn extra points from merchants in shopping portal. Many online travel agencies, hotels, cruises, and car rental agencies can be found in Upromise portal.

Priceline payouts: 6% on Name Your own Price hotel; 5% on Hotels; 3.5% on Activities; 3.5% on Cruises; 5% Name Your Own Price Car; 3.5% on Rental cars; 3.5% Vacation Packages; 3.5% Name Your Own Price on Airfare; 1% on Airfare
REDEMPTIONS
Redeem for statement creditYes, in increments of 2,500 ($25) or more Yes, for any purchase of $25 or moreRequest a check;

Deposit in 529 college savings account.
Restrictions on redemptionsMust have 2,500 points minimum to redeem. To redeem for a $100 statement credit, for example, you must redeem your points towards a purchase of $100 or more.Quarterly checks if balance exceeds $10.
Other redemption optionsCan redeem points for statement credits or gift cards at half the value of travel redemptions (not recommended).Use to pay off Sallie Mae student loans.
ADDITIONAL BENEFITS
Free FICO Credit Scoreyes, 4 times a yearyes, 4 times a yearyes, 4 times a year
Purchase and Travel Protectionsyesyesyes
1 year free TripIt Pro subscriptionyesnono
LIMITATIONS
Can only redeem points at full value for travel expenses. Earn only 1x point for Priceline.com purchases on cruise bookings, non-Name Your Own Price® car reservations, and hotel reservations designated as Pay When You Stay.Payouts from online shopping portals are often unreliable.

Hard to remember to go through shopping portal.
OTHER FACTORS
Initial bonus worth $222;

Subsequent earn rate of 2.2% on all travel and restaurant purchases can pad your travel funds;

Relatively easy to cash out points for statement credits for travel purchases, but may require calls to customer service;
Initial bonus worth $100 toward Priceline reservations. 5% off prepaid hotel reservations on Priceline.com. $50 initial bonus. 3% savings on some gas purchases. 5% savings on purchases through Upromise shopping portal, plus extra payout from many travel vendors and 900 other merchants.
MY TAKE
Good for budget travelers that prefer flexible paid travel over reward redemptions.Good for heavy users of Priceline. Best earning rate (app. 10%) on online travel purchases, except direct purchases from airlines and some hotel brands.

Good option if you do a lot of online shopping.

You need to consider your own spending circumstances to see which credit card makes most sense for you.  Where do you come out?

Click here to compare current rewards credit card offers.

Two More Chances at $10,000 from Barclay’s “Be Your Possible” Contest

Barclay's Contest "Be Your Possible"I logged in to the online account for my Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® and noticed a contest Barclay’s been running in honor of Women’s History Month.  

The “Be Your Possible” contest will award four $10,000 prizes.  There are two more chances to enter, by April 1 and April 8, 2014.

Being your possible means you don’t let anything stand in the way of accomplishing your goals and reaching your full potential.

Barclay's "Be Your Possible" Contest
Barclay’s “Be Your Possible” Contest

It’s easy to enter the contest via Facebook.  You just need to write a 200-word essay on one of these topics:

  • Empower your career
  • Be your own boss
  • Invest in your future
  • Your money smarts

The writing prompt is simply:   “Tell us your financial goal and how you plan to achieve it.”

All eligible entries will be judged based on the following three criteria:

  • Appropriateness to category theme (50 points)
  • Level of detail/clarity of expression (25 points)
  • Originality and usefulness of content (25 points)

 What do you think?  Is this contest worth your time?

Best Western Credit Card Boosts Sign-Up Bonus to 64K Points

Best Western Zion Park Inn, Springdale, Utah
Best Western Zion Park Inn, Springdale, Utah

If you are planning a trip to the “Golden Triangle” of national parks and monuments in the Southwestern U.S., you are bound to come across some Best Western Hotels in scenic locations.

Would four free nights at a Best Western enhance your travels, whether to the Southwest, or elsewhere?
If so, the latest offering from Barclaycard may be of interest, because it boosts the sign-up bonus for the Best Western credit card from 16,000 points to a whopping 64,000 points — enough for four free nights at mid-range Best Western hotels.
This is a no annual fee credit card; the full complement of points are awarded after spending $1000 within 90 days.
Best Western’s are not just located in the American West — 4,000 independently owned hotels all over the world operate under the Best Western banner.  You might be surprised how many Best Western’s there are in Paris!

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