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?

When It’s Cheaper to Fly Than to Take the Train

Empire State Building on a Clear Night
Empire State Building on a Clear Night
Joel Shprentz Photo

Last year, our family took the train up to New York for Thanksgiving.

This year, it was cheaper to fly.

That’s because we were finally able to use the two companion passes that came with my US Airways credit card.

The companion passes can be a pain the the neck because of all the limitations, but this holiday season the stars were aligned in our favor.

US Airways Credit Card Benefits Saved the Day

I purchased a ticket on the US Airways shuttle for myself, and secured companion pass tickets for my husband and daughter.  The tickets cost $99 each, plus tax of about $20.  This was about $4oo in savings, compared to the cost of two full price tickets.

We each checked a bag, which normally costs $25 per flight.  We know we’d need extra suitcase space for all the sales we hoped to hit on Black Friday.  The checked bags flew free because of the credit card.  This equalled another $150 in savings.

Black Friday Sales Did Not Disappoint
Black Friday Sales Did Not Disappoint
Joel Shprentz Photo

The US Airways credit card carries an annual fee of $89, but it came with 40,000 frequent flyer miles. I am saving those miles for another trip.

The current offer for the US Airways credit card is even better:  50,000 Dividend Miles after the first purchase and payment of an $89 fee.  Plus, you get the two companion passes and free checked bags.

If you are following along, that is a terrific deal!

You have to be a bit crazy to fly the day before Thanksgiving.  I am happy to report that despite a two hour weather-related delay, everything went smoothly.

Click here to compare current credit card offers.

Can I Interest You in a Free Glass of Sparkling Wine, or Perhaps Free Dessert?

MasterCard Concierge App
MasterCard Concierge App, Free on iTunes

If you have a World or World Elite U.S. Mastercard, you may be interested in the new MasterCard Concierge app available for free on iTunes.

The App is your key to finding special offers and discounts at restaurants at select locations in the U.S. and Canada.

Most of the restaurants included to date are fancy steak houses or expensive French bistros, but there are also Japanese, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern offerings.

MasterCard Concierge App
MasterCard Concierge App

The typical offer is for a free glass of sparkling wine or a free dessert to accompany your meal.

You’re not going to get rich off these offers.

But the Concierge app may come in handy some day if you find yourself headed to a participating restaurant in a big city like Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco, Montreal, or Las Vegas.

You must call or email the MasterCard Concierge to access the offers.

Credit Cards Eligible for the MasterCard Concierge Program

Examples of cards that may be eligible include the Barclaycard Arrival and Arrival Plus, as well as the The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® and the The Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite MasterCard®.   

The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® is currently offering  40,000 bonus miles after your first purchase and payment of the $89 annual fee.

This is a pretty good deal for accruing U.S. Airways Dividend Miles, because there is no minimum spend requirement to worry about.  40,000 Dividend Miles could come in handy with the American/USAir merger underway, and the upcoming merger of their frequent flyer programs.  I got this card for that very reason.

The Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite MasterCard® offers 35,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.

 

 

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.

New Benefit: Checked Bags Fly Free with US Airways Dividend Miles Card

First Checked Bag Flies Free with U.S. Airways Dividend Miles card
First Checked Bag Flies Free with U.S. Airways® Premier Dividend Miles® Credit Card

Contrary to conventional wisdom, I always check my bags when I fly.

To me, it is much easier than dragging a heavy suitcase through security and the rest of the airport.

US Airways Drops Checked Bag Fee for Cardholders

Starting tomorrow, holders of a U.S. Airways® Premier Dividend Miles® credit card, and up to four companions, will be able to check their first bag for free on domestic US Airways-operated flights.

That’s a $25 savings per bag each way, or $50 roundtrip.

Just remember to include your Dividend Miles number in your reservation.

If you and a companion check your bags on just one flight a year, this new benefit will more than offset the $89 annual fee on the U.S. Airways® Premier Dividend Miles® credit card.

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 7.57.08 AMTrack Your Bags

US Airways also offers passengers a way to track their checked luggage.

To follow your bags from check-in to landing, use your bag tag number, or the confirmation code from your baggage claim ticket.

If your flight has Gogo® internet, you can go to usairways.com and track your bags in flight for free, from your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Do you prefer to check your bags or carry them onboard?

If you fly a lot, you probably have experienced a lost, delayed, or stolen bag.  I’ve had my share of mishaps, but to me, the benefits out way the risks. What is your preference? 

Click here to compare current rewards credit card offers.

Why Diversification in Frequent Flyer Programs is a Bad Idea for Budget Travelers

Frequent Flyer ProgramsIt seems obvious to the casual observer.

Diversification is a good idea in the stock market, but it is a bad idea as far as frequent flyer programs go.

In order to maximize award travel, you need to concentrate your earning strategy on one or maybe two frequent flyer programs.

Miles and points have no value if they are not used.  Zilch.  So there is little value in gathering a few miles here and a few miles there unless you will have enough to redeem for an award ticket or hotel room.

Miles and Points Programs Are Loyalty Programs

Frequent flyer and hotel programs are loyalty programs so it stands to reason that they reward loyalty.  If you spread your spending around, the less likely you are to accrue enough points in any one program to redeem an award, or to benefit from elite status.  Now I am not one for elite status, but if you are doing a lot of traveling, and can arrange your travel to concentrate on a particular airline or hotel chain, you may accelerate your points earning as you move up the loyalty program ladder.

35,000 Miles Won’t Get Me Where I Want to Go

Let me give an example.  Last year, I opened a The US Airways Premier World MasterCard® for a bonus of 35K miles.  I thought this was a great deal because the miles were awarded after making my first purchase — there was no minimum spend requirement.  Free miles, I thought.  (The offer now is for $30K miles after your first purchase, with an annual fee of $89.)

US Airways fit into our family’s travel plans, because they had a lot of flights from Washington National (DCA) to Hartford (BDL).  The US Airways card came with two $99 companion passes, so I thought it would be a good way for our family of three to save on travel expenses.  Furthermore, it allowed award redemptions for 5,000 fewer points. (Economy awards on US Airways normally cost 25K miles, but if you have The US Airways Premier World MasterCard®, they cost only 20K miles.)

When it came time to book our travel, there was ready award availability at the “economy” level for flights from DC to Hartford.

So what’s the problem?

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Club Carlson Visa Bonus Offer on Dining (Targeted)

Club Carlson Visa Bonus OfferOn the heels of the massive Club Carlson devaluation last week, I was surprised to receive a a special offer in the mail to earn an extra 5  bonus points on restaurant purchases made with my Club Carlson Visa between March 1st and April 30th, 2014.

10x Points on Restaurant Spending with Club Carlson Visa

The Club Carlson credit card normally pays 5x points on all purchases, so with this offer, I could earn 10x points on restaurant spending.  The maximum bonus I can receive is 5,000 points.  I’m unlikely to spend $1,000 at restaurants over a 2 month period, but at 10x points, I’ll take what I can get!  

The offer requires preregistration online at clubcarlsonvisaoffers.com with a targeted code provided in the offer letter.

2x Bonus Points on Grocery Purchases with US Air Credit Card

Credit card companies sometimes offer special bonuses like this to get you in the habit of using their card for everyday spending.

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Eat Lobster, Earn Points

Clyde's Lobster SpecialMy husband and I honeymooned in Maine, so every year we try to go out for a celebratory lobster dinner.

Lucky for me that Clyde’s, my favorite restaurant chain, has extended their lobster special through the month of October.

Luckier yet that Clyde’s of Tyson’s Corner in Northern Virginia is part of the Dining Rewards program.

By signing up for the US Airways Dividend Miles Dining rewards program, you can earn 1,000 miles the first time you dine at a member restaurant, spend $40, and write a review.

Lesser known restaurants participate in the Dining Rewards program to attract customers and favorable reviews.  The Metro construction at Tyson’s Corner must be deterring customers, because Clyde’s is well known for its high quality food, fanciful decor, and reasonable prices.

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