Chase Ink Cash Business Card Review: $300 Cash Bonus, 5% Back Categories, No Annual Fee

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Limited-time offer; last day to apply is Monday, May 25th. The Chase small business credit card that I have written the least about is the Ink Cash® Business Credit Card. The Ink Cash usually doesn’t come with as big of a sign-up incentive as its Ink Bold and Ink Plus siblings, but is also has no annual fee for the first year and all subsequent years. The Ink Cash actually offers a better combination of upfront bonus and ongoing rewards utility.

If that sounds like you, someone who want a “keeper” business card with no annual fee, read on to learn about a few lesser-known quirks and a limited-time offer boost (previous bonus was $250).

Card highlights:

  • LIMITED TIME BONUS OFFER: Earn $300 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Named “Best for Rewards for Small Business” MONEY® Magazine, October 2014
  • Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year
  • Earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other card purchases with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers
  • Free employee cards
  • No annual fee

Digging into the features:

Sign-up bonus. Now, that cash sign-up bonus actually comes in the form of Ultimate Rewards points as 1 point = 1 cent in cash. So 30,000 points = $300 cash. However, you don’t get the 25% boost in value as you would with the Ink Bold or Ink Plus cards (that’s one reason why those have an the annual fee). However, if you already have one of those cards or a Chase Sapphire Preferred consumer card, you could transfer your points between Ultimate Rewards accounts and redeem using that other card’s 25% travel bonus.

Basically, if you partner this no-annual-fee card with one of the annual-fee cards (Ink Plus, Ink Bold, Chase Sapphire Preferred) at the time of redemption, you can boost the value. (You can have an Ink Plus and an Ink Cash card for the same business.)

Leveraging the 5% back bonus categories. Putting all of your small business cell phone, landline, and internet bills on the card and getting 5% back is pretty handy. For example, even just $200 a month x 12 months x 5% back is $120 back a year without changing your spending habits. Now let’s take the office supply store category and the fact that you can buy gifts cards to Amazon.com and other retailers at such office supply stores like Staples and OfficeMax… now you can effectively discount many of your other purchasing needs by 5% as well. Putting those purchases on such gift cards upfront can also help you meet the spending requirement for the bonus.

Many people aren’t aware of the fact that they can apply for business credit cards, even if they are not a corporation or LLC. The business type is called a sole proprietorship, and these days many people are full-time or part-time consultants, freelancers, or other one-person business. This is the simplest business entity, but it is fully legit and recognized by the IRS. On a business credit card application, you should use your own legal name as the business name, and your Social Security Number as the Tax ID. This is how I got all my cards before incorporating, and how my wife gets her business cards for her small side business.

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.  “The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.”

Chase Ink Plus Business Card Review: 60,000 Rewards Points Bonus

Chase Ink Plus Card Art

Limited-time 60k offer; last day is Monday, May 25th. Chase’s newest small biz credit card is called the Ink Plus® Business Card. It turns out to be very similar to the Chase Ink Bold Business card, but with the important difference that the Ink Plus is a credit card where you can carry a balance and the Bold is a charge card that you must pay in full each month. The current APR for both purchases and balance transfers is 15.24%.

This means that the Ink Plus is a separate card with its own sign-up bonus, currently a limited-offer of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after your after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months your account is open. You can read about my Ink Bold bonus experience here.

Ultimate Rewards points are very flexible:

  • Cash. 1 point = 1 cent in cash, so 50,000 points = $500 cash.
  • Travel. 1 point = 1.25 cents towards travel, so 60,000 points = $750 towards travel at the same prices at Expedia or Travelocity (no % markups), split up however you like into multiple tickets, down to the penny. Good for people who don’t like to bother with miles.
  • Frequent flier miles and hotel rewards points. Transfers directly to United miles, British Airways miles, Hyatt hotel points, and Marriott hotel points. Best for folks that are willing to research and maximize their miles. Top up your account to reach an award, an transfer over only what you need..

Here are the important features of this card:

  • LIMITED TIME BONUS OFFER: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 5X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 2X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Free employee cards
  • $95 Annual Fee

You can buy Amazon.com gift cards at Staples and OfficeMax and get the 5x points, effectively discounting them 5% in cash (6.25% in travel), which may also help you with the spending requirement. Based on past experiences, you should be able to get this card and bonus in addition to the Ink Bold card as they are different cards. I already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred personal card and the Ink Bold card, so I’ll probably wait for a bit and then try out this new card as well for my business. Gift cards purchases are also useful for satisfying the spending requirement for the bonus.

Many people aren’t aware of the fact that they can apply for business credit cards, even if they are not a corporation or LLC. The business type is called a sole proprietorship, and these days many people are full-time or part-time consultants, freelancers, or other one-person business. This is the simplest business entity, but it is fully legit and recognized by the IRS. On a business credit card application, you should use your own legal name as the business name, and your Social Security Number as the Tax ID. This is how I got all my cards before incorporating, and how my wife gets her business cards for her small side business.

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.  “The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.”

Five Ways To Get a Free Credit Score (No Trials!)

Updated with new sites and screenshots. Here’s how to grab a free credit score without the hassle of annoying trial membership offers, providing credit card numbers, or having to remember to cancel afterward. The government allows you to get a free credit report once every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com. But what about tracking your numerical credit score?

There are three major credit bureaus, each with their own information about you: Experian, Equifax, TransUnion. Besides just a score, many offer data taken directly from your credit reports like account balances, credit inquiries, and any negative marks. Some even offer free daily credit monitoring with e-mail alerts.

Credit Sesame

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Credit Sesame offers you a free credit score every month, either based on your Experian or TransUnion credit report (VantageScore). It appears that some older members (like myself) still get the Experian data, but newer members tend to see TransUnion-based data. Range is from 300-850. They also offer free daily credit monitoring, either via e-mail alerts or smartphone app. They make money with ads on the site.

No trial or credit card required. You will need to provide your personal information and Social Security number to some of these companies, naturally, so be comfortable with that. None of these methods by themselves will affect your credit score as you are requesting them for yourself.

And now, for a limited time, Credit Sesame is offering $50,000 in identity theft insurance and access to identity restoration help for FREE.

Quizzle

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Quizzle.com offers a free credit score based on your Equifax credit report (VantageScore), updated once every 6 months. They also provide a free, full copy of your Equifax credit score once every six months. No trial or credit card required. The score scale is also 300-850. Quizzle is also ad-supported, they are under the same umbrella as Quicken Loans so don’t be surprised if they offer you a mortgage quote.

CreditKarma

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CreditKarma.com offers you two free credit scores, based on your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports and updated weekly. Range is 300-850. You can also opt-in to free daily credit monitoring based on your TransUnion data. No trial or credit card required. Credit Karma is ad-supported; I’m usually pitched various credit cards.

LendingTree

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LendingTree.com offers a free credit score based on your TransUnion credit report (VantageScore), updated once a month. Range is from 300-850. LendingTree is a mortgage broker, so they will likely try to pitch you a mortgage quote.

Credit.com

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Credit.com offers a free credit score based on your Experian credit report (VantageScore), updated once a month. Range is from 300-850. Credit.com is ad-supported; I’m usually pitched various credit cards.

Free Monthly FICO Score

It is often pointed out that the scores above are not FICO scores. No, they are not FICO scores because Fair Isaac charges a lot more money and these companies can’t cover those costs with their advertising. However, these credit scores can still be very useful for tracking general trends in your credit history. Free credit monitoring is also a great way to track any big changes including fraudulent activity. I like getting an e-mail confirming whenever a new account is added to my report.

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Discover it 14 Month BT (RED)The new Discover it® Card offers you a free FICO score based on your TransUnion credit report once every month with your statement. The card has no annual fee and includes features like 5% cash back on rotating categories and no foreign transaction fees. Not only is it a good all-around credit card, but now I can see my “real” FICO08 score for free every month.

Discounted One-Time FICO Score

Finally, if you want a discounted FICO score without having to sign up for a new credit card, you’ll need both a credit card and sign up for a trial. This should be saved for cases where you really want your FICO score. You can sign up for a month of ScoreWatch at MyFICO.com for $14.95. You’ll get an instant free Equifax credit report and Equifax FICO credit score. The regular price for a FICO score is $19.95 so you’ll be saving 25%. You must call 1.888.577.5978 to cancel but will be charged each month you renew.

Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card: 50,000 Bonus Miles Review

United Mileage Plus Explorer CardLimited-time offer is back. The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is now offering 50,000 United miles after spending $3,000 in 3 months, plus 5,000 more miles for adding an authorized user and making a purchase on that additional card.

This 50k bonus is a limited-time offer until 6/2; the standard bonus is 30,000 miles. You may also get an offer with an additional $50 statement credit by going to United.com, running a search for any flight, and looking for a banner. There is no direct link available.

Here are the highlights for the United Mileage Plus Explorer Card:

  • LIMITED TIME OFFER: Start with 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • Check your first bag for free – save up to $100 per roundtrip. Good for you and a companion.
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club with two one-time-use passes every year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn double miles on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Your miles don’t expire as long as you’re a Cardmember, with no limit to the number of miles you can earn
  • Use your miles for any seat, any time, on any United flight
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95

All in all, a good card for regular United fliers with the free bags and priority boarding. Every year you spend $25,000 in purchases using your United MileagePlus Explorer Card, you’ll earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles. That means at 25k of spending, you’ll be getting 1.4 miles per dollar on all purchases.

Adding an authorized user is free of charge, so no reason not to get that addition 5,000 miles.

Keep in mind the following terms and conditions:

This new cardmember bonus offer is not available to either (i) current cardmembers of this consumer credit card, or (ii) previous cardmembers of this consumer credit card who received a new cardmember bonus for this consumer credit card within the last 24 months.

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.  “The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.”

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AT&T Access More MasterCard from Citi Review – GSM Phone Offer (Up to $650)

accessmore180Our partner Citi has launched yet another new card, AT&T Access More MasterCard® from Citi. This AT&T co-branded card obviously targets a niche, but read on if you will be in the market for a new GSM phone in the next year ($650 is the full price of a new iPhone 6). As such, this card took a little extra research and analysis. Be sure to read all the details before applying, so you understand how to get everything possible out of this offer.

“Exclusive New Phone Offer” details. Yes, the offer screams “new phone”! But lots of ads say that. What kind of new phone? Does it include iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S6? What strings are attached? Do I need to sign a contract?

  • You must spend $2,000 in purchases with your AT&T Access More Card within 3 months of account opening. As with other sign-up bonuses, this is the spending hurdle. The application page also says “If you buy a new phone now it will count toward the $2,000 in qualifying purchases!”. At first, I read this to mean “buy a phone and you don’t need to spend $2,000 anymore”. Nope. It’s just reminding you that if, for example, you buy a $650 phone on this card, then you’ll only need to spend another $1,350 on the card to meet the $2,000 threshold.
  • You can get any new phone on the AT&T website. Apple iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung S6, Samsung S6 Edge, flip phone, whatever.
  • They’ll give you up to $650 back towards a new phone bought full price with no annual contract… At first this may seem like a negative, man I have to buy it at full price? But that’s actually a good thing when the credit is for up to $650! For example, an iPhone 6 starts at $649.99 and Samsung S6 starts at $684.99. (Taxes, shipping, fees, and wireless service not included.)
  • … which also means lower monthly bills! When you essentially bring your own device (BYOD) buy buying the phone outright, AT&T will give you lower bills in the form of $15 to $25 off each month on their Mobile Share Value plans. Also, the $40 per-line activation fee is waived when you buy the phone at full price (and is not waived for 2-year contracts). More details on this below.
  • Since you own the phone and are not on a contract, you can also unlock it for use on any carrier. You can find unlock instructions at att.com/deviceunlock. are the AT&T unlock instructions [pdf]. Postpaid customers have an active account for at least 60 days, with no past due or unpaid balance. Non-AT&T customers can request a phone unlock before activating the phone on an AT&T plan. After submitting your request, the unlock should be done within 48 hours.
  • You must buy the phone using their special link. After you buy the phone, then activate it on an AT&T monthly plans of you choice for at least 15 days. Remember, you’re not bound to a contract after that. It’s easier just to quote from their Terms and Conditions:

    You must purchase an eligible phone from AT&T with your AT&T Access More Credit Card from Citi (the “Card”) using the Phone Offer Link created individually for you. This link may be accessible to you in several locations including, but not limited to, your approval screen at the time you apply, an email welcoming you to Access More Card membership (if you provide a valid email address) and through your Online Account at citi.com/att. You may redeem the Phone Offer using the link at any time after your Card account opening. Once you have made $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your Card account opening, and purchased and activated your eligible phone, Citi will credit your account for the cost of the eligible phone you purchased up to $650 (exclusive of taxes, fees, shipping and wireless service) within 1 to 2 billing cycles. If you choose to purchase an eligible phone which costs more or less than $650, your credit will equal the cost of the phone or $650, whichever is less.

Side question: How does paying full price for a phone compare with the subsidized 2-year contract or the AT&T Next plan? Most people don’t pay full price for a phone. It’s a lot of money. AT&T Next is basically like agreeing to pay full price for a phone but they let you pay in monthly installments instead. So the $650 iPhone 6 would $21.67 for 30 months (multiply that out and you get $650.10.) Nothing really special there. The traditional alternative is that you get a subsidized phone but you enter a 2-year contract at a higher monthly bill. Here’s how the two options compare:

  • The phone subsidy with a 2-year contract is $450, but you have a $40 activation fee. So the $650 iPhone 6 would only cost $200, plus a $40 per-line activation fee.
  • The monthly bill subsidy with a full price phone adds up to either $360 or $640 over 2 years. With the full price phone, there is no activation fee. If your Mobile Share Value plan comes with 6GB of data or less, you get a $15 discount per month per line. $15 times 24 months = $360. If your Mobile Share Value plan comes with 10GB or more, you get a $25 discount per month per line. $25 times 24 months = $600.

So if you compare the savings between the full price plan as 2-year contract, you’re either behind by $50 over two years, or ahead by $190 over two years. So worst case you’re behind by $50 at the 2-year mark, but if you kept your full price phone and cheaper-by-$15 plan for just an extra 4 months past the contract end date, you’d be ahead again.

Ongoing card rewards program highlights. This card also has a unique rewards program using Citi ThankYou points:

  • 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 you spend on purchases made online at retail and travel websites*
  • 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 you spend on products and services purchased directly from AT&T*
  • 1 point earned for every $1 you spend on other purchases*
  • 10,000 Anniversary bonus points after you spend $10,000 in prior cardmembership year*
  • $95 annual fee.

Here are snippets from the fine print that I think are helpful:

Retail websites are websites that sell goods directly to the consumer through an online website and include department store websites, specialty store websites, warehouse store websites and boutique websites. Travel websites are websites that allow you to book travel and include online travel agencies, hotel websites and airline websites.

AT&T purchases are AT&T consumer products and/or services purchased directly from AT&T. AT&T consumer products and services must be purchased from www.att.com, www.telephones.att.com, AT&T owned stores or AT&T customer service centers. Purchases from independent wireless dealers or AT&T resellers are not eligible, unless they are for payment of AT&T service.

That means you can get 3 ThankYou points per $1 of purchases at Amazon.com, Costco.com, Apple.com, Walmart.com, Target.com, Expedia.com, and so on as well at your AT&T monthly service bill. Please see my Citi ThankYou Premier card review for details on redeeming your ThankYou points for at least $100 value per 10,000 points, but note that the special 25% bonus on travel redemption only apply if you also hold the ThankYou Premier card (you can redeem points earned from this card). Throw in the even-more special American Airlines flight awards from the Citi Prestige card and those 3X ThankYou categories start looking even better.

Bottom line. This is a niche card for folks that will soon be in the market for a new GSM phone, especially AT&T customers. (Non-AT&T customers can request a phone unlock before activating the phone on an AT&T plan, after which you’ll have an unlocked GSM phone that can be used on another GSM carrier. Afterward, you’ll still need to activate an AT&T plan for 15 days to get the credit.) If that’s you, then the sign-up bonus is very generous – up to $650 towards a full-price, no-contract AT&T GSM phone. Looking at all the scenarios above, even in the worst case you’d be behind $50 after two years vs. buying new AT&T phone via 2-year contract. There is also the $95 annual fee. That’s still a net benefit of over $500 and thus one of the top credit card sign-up bonuses currently available. The card then offers you ongoing bonus rewards on AT&T service as well as an interestingly broad category of “retail websites”. However, that $95 annual fee is rather high unless you spend $10,000 annually on the card and get the 10,000 ThankYou point anniversary bonus to offset it.

New Citi ThankYou Premier Card Review

Citi ThankYou Premier Card ArtThe Citi ThankYou® Premier Card has re-launched from our partner Citi, with a new sign-up bonus and purchase rewards structure. Get 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points as follows:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • First year annual fee waived, $95 after that.
  • No foreign transaction fee on purchases.
  • Chip Technology included for improved acceptance while traveling.
  • No limits on earning points or expiration dates.

What can you do with 50,000 ThankYou Points? Citi has been trying to improve the value and flexibility of ThankYou points, so here is a rundown of what you can do with 50,000 of them. Bonus ThankYou Points not available if you have had a Citi ThankYou Premier card opened or closed in the past 18 months.

$625 in Airfare (ThankYou Travel Center)

With the new Citi Premier card, you get a 20% discount on the standard travel redemption that a “regular” Citi card offers. The reverse math means 1 TY point = 1.25 cents towards travel. Note that this 25% bonus applies all of your points from all Citi cards linked to the same ThankYou account, thus boosting the value of all your other points. (Compare with the Citi Prestige card, which has 33% bonus amongst and other additional features, but also a higher annual fee.)

For example, with my non-Premier card, I found that a flight that cost $360 including taxes and fees on Expedia would cost 36,000 TY points from Citi Travel. But with the Citi Premier, it would only cost 28,800 TY points. ThankYou Travel Center screenshot:

ThankYou Travel Center screenshot:

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Expedia.com screenshot:

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So 50,000 TY points will indeed get you $625 in airfare, with the Citi Travel Center having the same price as compared to Expedia, Orbitz, etc. Since you can book any flight that can be found on Expedia, there are “no blackout dates”.

Don’t have enough points to cover an entire airfare? That’s okay. Let’s say you found a ticket that want for $200 = 16,000 points, but only have 10,000 points available. Citi now lets you pay the difference, so in this case you can get your $200 ticket for 10,000 points and $75. This makes it much easier to use up all of your points at a 25% premium.

$500 in Gift Cards, $500 Check Towards Student Loan / Mortgage

You can view your redemption options at ThankYou.com. I took a quick look and it takes 10,000 ThankYou (TY) points to redeem for a $100 gift card to retailers like Gap, Banana Republic, Barnes & Noble, Bath and Body Works, Bed Bath & Beyond, Cabelas, CVS Pharmacy, Kohl’s, Land’s End, LL Bean, Sears, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Staples, and Walmart. So with 50,000 TY points, you could get five $100 gift cards from different stores.

Want something closer to cash? For a check mailed to you, it is 8,000 points for $50 (1 points = 0.625 cent). The best deal is a check mailed towards your mortgage payment or student loan (made out to your lender), which is 7,500 points for $75 (1 points = 1 cent).

New Airline Transfer Options

Citi ThankYou points are also now available to transfer to certain airline mileage programs on a 1:1 basis including Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Etihad, Flying Blue by Air France and KLM, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways. For example, 50,000 TY points can get you 50,000 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles.

New Rewards Structure

The Citi ThankYou Premier now earns:

  • 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent travel including gas, airfare, and hotels.
  • 2 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent dining out and entertainment.
  • 1 ThankYou Point per $1 spent on other purchases.

Triple (3X) points on airfare and hotels, when combined with the 25% travel premium, makes that equivalent to a 3.75% reward towards travel booked through Citi Travel Center. Double (2X) on restaurants (includes bars and fast food) and entertainment makes that 2.5% towards travel booked through Citi Travel Center.

With the improvements in ThankYou point redemption, increased sign-up bonus, and new rewards structure, everything looks to be a little bit better than before. The current sign-up 50k sign-up bonus with no annual fee the first year is attractive. However, a cardholder would need a fair amount of spending in the bonus categories (gas, airfare, hotels, dining out) in order to offset the $95 annual after the first year where they waive it.

Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card: Two Free Weekend Nights (Which I Redeemed for $1,109 Value) + $100 Statement Credit

hiltonreserveLimited-time offer adds $100 statement credit on top of 2 weekend night certificates. The premium co-branded Citi Hilton Hotels card, from our partner Citi, is the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card. The sign-up bonus includes certificates good for 2 Free Weekend Nights, with “weekend night” meaning a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night AND A $100 statement credit after spending $100 or more on your first hotel stay in the Hilton Portfolio within the first 3 months of account opening. If you like staying at posh hotels, you can get $500+ value out of each certificate and easily $500 of value out of them together. Card feature summary:

  • Limited Time: Earn a $100 statement credit after spending $100 or more on your first hotel stay in the Hilton Portfolio within the first 3 months of account opening.*
  • Earn 2 weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton Portfolio after you make $2,500 in purchases within 4 months of account opening*
  • Earn 10 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on hotel stays within the Hilton Portfolio*
  • Earn 5 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on airline and car rental purchases*
  • Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases*
  • Enjoy the benefits of HHonors Gold status as long as you are a cardmember*
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases*
  • Travel with ease and enjoy global acceptance with your Citi chip credit card

The two free weekend night certificates have no category restrictions, but do have the following exclusions (often these are condo-hotels). Certificates are valid for 12 months after issuance. Must be used on “standard” rooms (no upgraded suites, etc). Room taxes are included with the certificates. Booking the same rooms using rewards points would cost 50,000-70,000 HHonors points per night. Possible choices include:

grandmaui

Update: I applied myself, satisfied the requirement, received my two rewards certificates, and redeemed for $1,000+ worth of rooms in Hawaii. I applied for this card (Day 0) and made my first purchase Day 7, first statement about a month later, was charged the $95 annual fee, satisfied the spending hurdle, second statement closed, and I was issued the two weekend night certificates via e-mail after that (Day 67). Here is a screenshot:

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According to commenter TJ below who satisfied the spending requirements in the first billing cycle, s/he got the certificates two weeks after the close of the 1st statement. My guess is that they just want to make sure you pay the annual fee. Also, good tip to check your spam folder for the e-mailed certificates!

I called in to book the nights I wanted at my resort of choice – the Grand Wailea (Waldorf Astoria) in Maui. (I’ve never stayed there before, but it looks pretty awesome.) Keep in mind that although there are no category restrictions (it doesn’t matter how expensive the hotel is on average), you can only book a “standard room” which I believe is their cheapest tier of rooms. So if you want a busy weekend that is coming up soon and those cheaper rooms are sold out, you may not get it. However, I was able to get two consecutive weekend nights. I am also able to cancel without any penalty or fees up until 14 days before the booking.

If I was booking with cash on the exact same dates and exact same room, it would have cost me $1,109.25. Here’s proof via screenshot from the booking website:

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If I was to have used points, it would have taken 70,000 per night for a total of 140,000 Hilton Honor points. Note that I took out the resort fees, which are reportedly not waived when booking with certificate or points redemptions (any taxes on the room rate are covered). Resort fees are $25 per night ($28.35 with taxes). You actually get the following stuff too: “Guest internet access; beach umbrellas for use on Wailea Beach; admission to twice daily SCUBA clinics; free bike rental”.

Recap

In the end, this is a great way for casual travelers to stay two nights at a really fancy hotel where you can’t imagine paying over $300 a night. We applied and got ourselves two nights at the Grand Wailea in Maui. However, you should keep in mind that the reward certificates are only for Fri/Sat/Sun nights and are based on room availability so some flexibility in either hotel choice or dates is recommended. On an ongoing basis, the card is ideal for Hilton hotel regulars – You get 10x points on Hilton purchases and free Gold elite status (perks include late checkout, free Wi-Fi, and a free breakfast at many hotels). If you spend $10,000 in a year, you get another free weekend night certificate, which you can weigh against the $95 annual fee.

Citi Prestige Card Review: New 50,000 Point Offer (Worth $800 in American Airlines Airfare)

citiprestigecardfrontOur partner Citi has revamped the Citi Prestige® Card, their premium ThankYou point rewards card. The sign-up bonus has been increased to 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. 50,000 TY points are redeemable for an $800 flight on American Airlines or US Airways, a $665 flight on any other airline, or $500 in gift cards.

There is a hefty $450 annual fee that is not waived the first year, but the card also includes a $250 air travel credit every year that is valid towards any airfare bought from any airline (and also baggage fees). Per the fine print, the $250 annual credit resets every December through the next December. So you could conceivable qualify for a $250 credit on airfare in November and then another $250 in January.

Here’s a summary of the one-time sign-up bonuses and perks:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • $100 Global Entry application fee credit. Citi will cover the $100 application fee on a one-time basis when you charge it to the card. Global Entry allows you to get through international customs faster when entering the US. The $100 application fee credit will reset once every 5 years.

Here’s a summary of ongoing highlights of the card:

  • $250 Statement Credit for Air Travel each year. Unlike other cards, airfare counts as well as baggage fees, lounge access, and other incidental purchases. This renews every calendar year, so it can be used to help offset the annual fee every year. “This statement credit is an annual benefit available for purchases appearing on your billing statements from December through the following December. Pending transactions that do not post in your December billing cycle will count towards the next year’s Air Travel Credit.”
  • Complimentary access to nearly 40 American Airlines Admirals Club® lounges, plus hundreds of VIP lounges through Priority Pass Select. Valid for you and your entire immediate family (spouse, domestic partner and/or children under 18 years of age) or up to two companions. Priority Pass lounges tend to be at international airports.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels.
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment.
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on Purchases.
  • Includes chip technology which increases acceptance overseas.
  • Transfer points to a variety of travel loyalty programs from airlines to hotels.
  • Complimentary 4th Night for any hotel stay. This could be nice, but your stay must be booked through their designated travel agent, so I’m not sure if that means the rates will be the same as say Expedia or Travelocity.
  • Complimentary greens fees at more than 2,400 public and private golf courses around the globe. The terms specify that you get 3 complimentary rounds of golf through the Citi Prestige® Golf Portal (provided by GolfSwitch, Inc.) each calendar year.
  • $450 Annual Fee. Not waived for the first year.

The Citi Prestige is most attractive for people who fly on American Airlines and US Airways (the two are merging). Citi and American are tight these days; the competing American Express Platinum no longer offers American Airlines lounge access at all.

With this card, you can redeem 1 ThankYou point to get 1.6 cents worth of American Airlines and US Airways airfare. You can’t do this with any other ThankYou card, but if you have it then all your ThankYou points earned from any other card can be redeemed this way. That means if you redeem your points towards American Airlines or US Airways airfare, you’ll get 1.6% back standard while the 2X and 3X categories turn into 3.2% back at restaurants and 4.8% back on airfare and hotels. (If you have CitiGold checking account or Citi Private Banker, you’ll get an additional 15% or 25% bonus respectively on ThankYou points earned.) You can also get 1.33 cents per point value by redeeming towards airfare on all other airlines.

Citi ThankYou points are also now available to transfer to certain airline mileage programs on a 1:1 basis including Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Etihad, Flying Blue by Air France and KLM, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways.

Bottom line. If you add up all of the perks (including 50,000 TY point sign-up bonus worth $800 in American Airlines or US Airways airfare, $250 annual airfare credit that resets every December, American Airlines first class lounge access, $100 Global Entry application fee credit, 3.2% back on restaurants and 4.8% back on airfare and hotels when redeemed for American Airways airfare), you can see that for the right person the $450 annual fee can be more than worth it. In my mind, that person should fly American or US Airways at least once a year if not more often.

In addition, if you have a big stash of Citi ThankYou points, getting this card could greatly increase the value of your existing point balance due to the special American Airlines conversion rate.

Chase IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card Review: What Does 70,000 Points Get You?

ihgcardThe Chase IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card has a limited-time promotion where you can get 70,000 bonus IHG points after you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months of account opening. The previous bonus was 60k points. This card also has the annual fee waived for the first year. So the question is what will 70,000 of these lesser-known IHG points get you? Put another way, how much should I value a single IHG point?

Here are the card highlights plus my notes from the fine print:

  • Earn 70,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of account opening. “After qualifying, please allow 6 to 8 weeks for bonus points to post to your account. This new cardmember bonus offer is not available to either (i) current cardmembers of this consumer credit card, or (ii) previous cardmembers of this consumer credit card who received a new cardmember bonus for this consumer credit card within the last 24 months.”
  • Annual free night award after each year of card membership, valid at any IHG hotel. “Anniversary Free Night is valid at hotels in the IHG® Rewards Club Family of Brands and must be redeemed, and stay must be completed, within 12 months from date of issue. Anniversary Free Night is valid for one standard room night rate and applicable taxes only. Rooms are limited, subject to prior sale and availability of allocated resources and may be unavailable during high demand periods.”
  • 10% rebate on all points redemptions, up to 100,000 rebated points per year.
  • Platinum Elite status as long as you remain a cardmember. Platinum elite is their highest elite tier and usually requires staying 50+ nights a year. Perks include priority check-in, free room upgrades based on availability, and bonus earning on top of base points. Everyone gets free WiFi internet as well.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $49.

In terms of rewards on purchases, cardmembers will:

  • Earn 5 points for each $1 spent at IHG hotels
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants
  • Earn 1 point for $1 spent on everything else.

IHG stands for Intercontinental Hotel Group which has over 4,700 hotels including the following brands:

  • Intercontinental® Hotels & Resorts
  • Crowne Plaza®
  • Holiday Inn®, Holiday Inn Express
  • Staybridge Suites®
  • Candlewood Suites®
  • Hotel Indigo®
  • EVEN Hotels

IHG Point Value Comparisons

IHG Rewards Club puts out a new list of PointBreaks hotels every few months where you can redeem a hotel night for only 5,000 points. That means your 70,000 bonus points from this card could technically earn you 14 free nights! If those hotel rooms would otherwise cost $100 a night including taxes, you’d be getting $1,400 value from 70,000 points. Valuing the hotels at $50 a night including taxes, you’d be getting $700 value from 70,000 points. This is where you can see valuations anywhere between 1.5 cents and 2 cents per IHG point.

But that’s not very realistic. There are some nice hotels on the list, but the locations are very specific and few people are sufficiently flexible with their travel to constantly take advantage of these deals.

I recently spent a week at a Staybridge Suites in Austin with my family and it was great. The room felt like an apartment with a living room, full kitchen, and separate bedroom. Every morning there was a buffet breakfast with eggs, bacon, cereal, bagels, fruit, yogurt, juice, and so on that I could grab and bring back into my suite where the kids could run around. I’ll be returning and willing to pay the going rate again, so how much would it cost me in points?

Here’s an actual rate quote for 9/16 to 9/22 for the same Staybridge Suites:

ighcard1

Keep in mind that the quote doesn’t include taxes, which would make the $148 average nightly rate into $170 with taxes. The 25,000 points per night include taxes, so that would work out to roughly 0.7 cents per point in value. At that rate, 70,000 points would be worth $490.

Also note that with the 25,000 point redemption, you can cancel up until the very last minute (6pm local time the day of check-in), while the $170 rate is a non-refundable advance purchase. The true equivalent refundable room rate is $203, or $233 per night including taxes. That is more like 0.9 cents per IHG point, where 70,000 points would be worth $630.

You can perform the same calculations for hotels that fit your needs. I tried a bunch of other various combinations and always got between 0.6 cents and 1.1 cents per point equivalent value.

In terms of luxury hotel room nights, let’s try the same week at the InterContinental New York Times Square:

ihgcard2

You’re looking at $493 a night including taxes for non-refundable advance purchase, or $576 including taxes for refundable. Points would cost 50,000 a night, making it roughly 1 to 1.1 cents per point value. At that rate 70,000 points = $700 to $770.

Recap
While it is certainly possible to get $700+ value out of the 70k point bonus, I would stick with a more conservative estimate of $400 (~0.6 cents a point) and hope to be pleasantly surprised. But it’s an easily achievable $400-$500 value at a wide variety of hotels from budget to luxury (32 IHG hotels in Austin, TX area alone for example) with no blackout dates making it suitable for all types of travelers. The annual fee is waived for the first year, so you can enjoy the other perks of the card like 10% point rebate and complimentary Platinum Elite status. After that, you’ll have to decide based on your travel habits if the $49 annual fee is sufficiently offset by the free hotel night perk.

In terms of putting all your spending on this card, since I think an IHG point is often worth less than a cent per point on average, it is not as good an all-around rewards card as many of its competitors. I might put my IHG paid hotel stays on it, but that’s about it.

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.  “The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.”

Citi Simplicity Card Review: 0% for 21 Months, No Late Fees, No Penalty Rates

citisimplicity175New 21 month offer (1.75 years). I usually focus on rewards-earning credit cards, but I know many folks are still carrying some balances and thus more concerned about their whopping 15% interest rate rather than a relatively puny 2% back on purchases. Our partner Citi has launched the Citi Simplicity® Card, which is uniquely suited for those that want to transfer higher rate balances to a long 0% intro period while also offering some “accident forgiveness insurance”. The highlights:

  • 0% Intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening. Balance transfer fee is 3% of balance transfer amount, $5 minimum. This is one of the longest offers out there for balance transfers.
  • 0% Intro APR on purchases for 21 months. This means you can keep charging your new purchases on this card as well and also enjoy no interest for 21 months. Also one of the longest 0% offers available for purchases.
  • No late fees. If you’re late on a payment, you won’t be dinged with a ~$40 late fee as with many other cards.
  • No penalty APR. Even worse than a late fee, a missed payment can lead to a rate hike into a “penalty” APR rate as high as 25% or more. The Simplicity does not have penalty APRs.
  • No annual fee.
  • Direct to human help. If you call in and say “representative”, you’ll be transferred directly to a human, 24 hours a day.

The Citi Simplicity card does not earn any cash back, points, miles, or free toasters; I’d open a separate card for rewards. It does include additional purchase benefits such as Citi Price Protection (price drop protection on brick and mortar purchases) and free Extended Warranty (extends manufacturer’s warranty for up to 12 months).

Alternatively, the Chase Slate® Card offers 0% APR on balance transfers for 15 months with no balance transfer fee, but does not include some of the more consumer-friendly features of this card that ensure your low rates don’t get hiked.

To summarize, the Citi Simplicity® Card is a solid card with one of the longest 0% introductory periods currently available on both purchases and balance transfers. If you are serious about paying off some credit card debt, this offer will get you no interest for 1.75 years with minimal gotchas.

Slate from Chase: 0% APR For 15 Months + NO Balance Transfer Fee for 60 Days + Free FICO Score

Chase Slate Box Banner

Updated with free FICO score information. Looking to pay down debt in 2015? Transfer your balances to the Chase Slate® Card and get 0% APR For 15 Months and pay NO BALANCE TRANSFER FEE if done within 60 days of account opening. You won’t pay any more interest until 2016, and all your money will go towards paying down the balance principal. You can literally borrow money for free and pay it back in 15 months with no interest (keeping in mind you’ll still need to satisfy the minimum payment each month until then). $0 annual fee.

It is very rare these days to find a no balance transfer fee 0% APR offer that is available to all (as opposed to being targeted only to specific customers). You can verify in the Pricing & Terms section of the application, down in the Fees box:

None on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. All other transfers: Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Make sure you initiate that balance transfer within the first 60 days.

Free Monthly FICO Score
As of March 2015, the Chase Slate card now offers an EMV security chip and a free FICO score every month. The FICO score will be based on your Experian credit bureau report, and they’ll also have a “Credit Dashboard” that tells you reasons behind your score and a summary of your Credit Report information. Here’s a screenshot:

slatefico

According to the WSJ, so far this is only available on the Slate and not other Chase-issued credit cards. This is because the Slate is by far Chase’s most popular card for those transferring existing balances and that means many of those 10 million cardholders care about their interest rates and credit scores.

Lower your interest on balances!
This is a great opportunity for those people with good to excellent credit but are still working hard to lower their debt payments, as now you can have all your money applied directly into cutting down your principal instead of having it go towards interest and/or fees. The 0% APR applies to new purchases as well, so your balance owed will go down that much faster and you won’t have to worry about interest until well into 2016.

Chase Blueprint is a free feature on select cards that lets you break down your balances into things that you want to pay in full each month and bigger purchases that you wish to pay off over time. A gadgety feature, but if at all possible I say nuke those balances completely!

If you wish to get cash from this balance transfer offer without it being classified as a “cash advance”, one option that has worked for me is to ask for the balance transfer as a check or electronically transferred to your bank account. Just call the number on the back of your card after you get it and tell them you’re trying to pay down debt that’s not on another card.

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.  “The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.”

Blue Cash Preferred from American Express Review: 6% Back on Groceries + New Bonus

amexbcpUpdate: There is a new link for this card which is offering a $50 statement credit after first purchase within 3 months of card membership, plus another $150 statement credit after $1,000 in purchases within 3 months of card membership. The sign-up bonus is not available to applicants who have or have had this product before.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers:

  • 6% Cash Back at US stand-alone supermarkets up to $6,000 per year in purchases
  • 3% Cash Back on gasoline at at US stand-alone gas stations
  • 3% Cash Back at select major US department stores
  • and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Supermarkets details. “US stand-alone supermarkets” means that superstores, convenience stores and warehouse clubs are NOT considered supermarkets. This means no Super Wal-Mart, no Super Target, no Costco. Examples of merchants that count (and this is not a complete list!!) are Meijer, Vons, Whole Food, Winn-Dixie, and online supermarkets such as FreshDirect.

Gasoline details. “US stand-alone gas stations” means that superstores, supermarkets, and warehouse clubs that sell gasoline are NOT considered gas stations. This means no Target, no Costco, no Sam’s Club. Examples of merchants that count (and this is not a complete list!!) are Exxon, Mobil, Hess, Shell, Gulf, Murphy USA, Murphy Express.

Major US Department stores details. These are the only stores that qualify:

• Bealls
• Belk
• Bloomingdale’s
• Bon Ton Stores
• Boscov’s
• Century 21 Department Stores
• Dillard’s
• J.C. Penney (JCP)
• Kohl’s
• Lord & Taylor
• Macy’s
• Neiman Marcus
• Nordstrom
• Saks Fifth Avenue
• Sears
• Stein Mart

The card has a $75 annual fee, but keep in mind that spending $25 per week at supermarkets, that 6% back can earn over $75 Reward Dollars per year ($78) to pay for the annual fee by itself.

If you spend the max cap of $500 a month at supermarkets, that would net you $360 cash back in a year vs. $60 at 1% cash back or $120 at 2% cash back. You should remember that you can find gift cards to many popular retailers at your local supermarket these days. I would put my non-bonus-category charges on a card earning more than 1%.

The Blue Cash Preferred also has 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. After that, your APR will be a variable rate, currently 12.99% – 21.99%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors. Balance transfer fee is either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.”