Free FICO Score from American Express Credit Cards

amex_spgThis post provides updated information and instructions regarding the free FICO score that is available to American Express credit card holders.

Background. In late 2014, American Express started piloting free FICO scores to select cardholders. In late August 2015, American Express has rolled out the free FICO scores much more widely. See additional information below. In previous years, AmEx cardholders could view their Experian PLUS credit score and credit report once every 12 months.

FICO Score details.

  • FICO Score version (reported): FICO Score 8, or FICO 08. This is the most widely used of the many FICO flavors. Score version is directly shown on the website.
  • Credit bureau: Experian
  • Update frequency: Monthly
  • Limitations: Available to all American Express consumer credit and charge cards. See details below.

How to find the score. You can find the score after logging into your online account access. In order to see it, you must be viewing the American Express website in its “new” design layout (see screenshots below). If you are still on the “old” layout, try to unlink any cards for which you are the authorized user. In many cases, this will let you revert to the new design layout. Here are some screenshots.

Look for the “My Free FICO Score” link on your sidebar (click to enlarge):

fico_amex1

You will have to opt-in:

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Here’s what your score report looks like (click to enlarge):

fico_amex2

Fine print:

The FICO® Score we provide is the FICO® Score 8 based on data from Experian and may be different from other credit scores. FICO® Scores and educational content are delivered only to Primary card members who get a monthly statement and have an available score. This information is intended only for the Primary card members own review purposes. American Express and other lenders may use different inputs like a FICO® Score, other credit scores and more information in credit decisions. Because it is continuously updated, your FICO® Score may not reflect the most current data on your credit report. This benefit may change or end in the future.

The Many Flavors of FICO Credit Scores

fico_brEvery week it seems there is a new way to get a free FICO score. Over the last 10 years, I’m pretty sure I’ve only paid for a FICO score once when I was paranoid about my first mortgage application. Why aren’t they charging us $15 a pop anymore? My opinion is that FICO realized that:

  1. If they didn’t start making FICO scores more accessible, the government would force them offer free FICO scores to everyone like they did with free annual credit reports. Nowadays, I think we take for granted that we get a free credit report every year. Before the 2003 FACT Act, we had to pay to view our own credit report data.
  2. The alternative free credit score providers were getting very cozy directly with the credit bureaus, and their free FAKO scores and partial reports were getting good enough and popular enough that people might stop caring about FICO scores if they didn’t start marketing directly to consumers. Nowadays the FICO brand has much more publicity.

Anyhow, I was doings some research on their website when I noticed that they provided the following chart about the various versions of FICO:

fico_flavors

While these flavors have been around for a long time, they’ve only been well-known to industry insiders (and credit card afficionados). I had never seen FICO actually share all of these versions in the name of “consumer education”. If people actually knew there were so many different credit score flavors, they would have been less willing to pay big bucks for a single score that their lender may not even use. I guess now the game is that you get a single free “vanilla” FICO score from select credit cards, but you can buy all 19 FICO flavors for a $60 one-time snapshot from all 3 bureaus, or $30 a month for an ongoing subscription. If you get all these scores, you’re at least likely to see what the lender sees. Nicely done.

My own scores always hover in the upper 700s but rarely goes far above 800 because I am constantly “using” them to try out new credit card perks and take advantage of attractive sign-up bonuses. There is definitely a happy range where I can do this while not experiencing any ill effects like a higher auto insurance premium. However, I still don’t see the need to pay $360 a year to track my FICO scores. I’d rather spend my money at Baskin Robbins and pick from their 31 delicious flavors.

Expedia+ Voyager Card from Citi Review

expediaplusvoyagerExpedia.com has revamped their in-house loyalty rewards program. Citi and Expedia have partnered on a new set of co-branded credit cards. How does the combo work out for us travelers? This review covers the Voyager version, which is the premium card for the frequent Expedia user.

Why use Expedia in the first place? If you book all of your travel through a travel shopping engine, that most likely means you would rather have the lowest price than be loyal to any specific chain. You might stay at a Holiday Inn, then a Hilton, and then a Sheraton. Or fly on American, then Delta, then United. Indeed, Expedia even offers a “Best Rate Guarantee” against booking elsewhere, for which I have successfully claimed the $50 travel coupon in the past:

Find a cheaper flight, vacation package, rental car, cruise or activity within 24 hours of booking and we’ll refund the difference, plus give you a $50 travel coupon for future travel. For hotels, we go even further: If you find a cheaper rate on your hotel reservation up to two days before your check-in, we will refund the difference and give you a $50 travel coupon for future travel. If you’re an Expedia+ rewards member, we’ll match your hotel price until midnight before check-in.

The Expedia®+ Voyager Card from Citi is meant to help regular Expedia users earn and redeem travel rewards faster. Although it doesn’t show on the front of the card, it is a MasterCard. Here are the highlights:

  • Earn a $100 statement credit after your first eligible Expedia purchase greater than $100 within 3 month of account opening*
  • PLUS, earn 20,000 Expedia+ rewards bonus points after $2,000 in purchases within 3 months of account opening*
  • Points redeemable for $250 in coupons at +VIP Access™ hotels or $125 at other hotels*
  • 4 Expedia+ bonus points per $1 spent on eligible Expedia purchases including flights, hotels, activities and vacation packages*
  • 2 Expedia+ bonus points per $1 spent on purchases for dining out and entertainment, including tickets to concerts, movies and sporting events*
  • 1 Expedia+ bonus point per $1 spent on other purchases*
  • Expedia+ gold status is complimentary for as long as you are a cardmember*
  • $100 Annual Air Travel Fee Statement Credit can be used toward airline incidentals on qualified airlines, Wi-Fi carries or for either the Global Entry or TSA Precheck® application fee*
  • $95 annual fee.
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases.

Expedia+ points fuel the revamped free rewards program available to all Expedia customers. To apply for this credit card, you must first sign in or register for a rewards account at Expedia.com.

How do you earn Expedia+ Points?

When you book eligible travel on Expedia (including vacation packages, hotels, flights, cruises, and activities), you earn points. Note that when you book flights, you still earn frequent flyer miles as well as Expedia+ rewards points. For hotel stays, double-dipping ability varies by the chain. The following earning methods are open to all Expedia users:

  • 2 points per $1 spent on hotels or Vacation Packages that include a hotel.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on activities or select cruises.
  • 1 point per $5 spent on flights.
  • Other special, limited-time promotions, such as using their mobile apps.

By using this credit card and/or attaining elite status, you can get the following boosts:

  • 30% bonus on your base points earned with +Gold status (+Gold is free with this card)
  • +Silver and +Gold members earn an additional 250 points per booking at a +VIP Access™ hotels.
  • 4 Expedia+ bonus points per $1 spent on eligible Expedia purchases including flights, hotels, activities and vacation packages*
  • 2 Expedia+ bonus points per $1 spent on purchases for dining out and entertainment, including tickets to concerts, movies and sporting events*
  • 1 Expedia+ bonus point per $1 spent on other purchases*

Since you earn based on your total amount spent, this works out well for people booking for entire families or other groups of people.

How do you redeem Expedia+ Points?

Here’s a breakdown of the redemption options for Expedia+ points. There are no “blackout dates”.

Discounted hotel stays. 3,500 points will get you a $25 hotel coupon valid at any Expedia Rate hotel. Alternatively, 3,500 points will get you a $50 coupon valid at +VIP Access hotels. So the conversion rate is either 0.7 cents per point or 1.4 cents per point. The minimum redemption is 3,500 points, but you can do multiples of it up to a $1,000 coupon.

expedia_redeem_reg

expedia_redeem_vip

To get an idea of what the hotel types mean, you can run any search on Expedia and look for “Expedia Rate” or filter by “+VIP Access” under the More button. Here are some results for Honolulu, HI on a random date:

expedia_hotel_reg

expedia_hotel_vip

In general, +VIP Access™ hotels tend to be more luxurious, although not always. Here are the common rules for both Expedia Rate and VIP Access coupon types:

Coupons can be used once. Any leftover value is void. A coupon can be applied to only one hotel room per booking. Coupon values don’t apply to taxes or fees. Once a coupon is claimed, it can not be refunded. A coupon is valid for one year from the date you create it. Coupons can only be used on reservations paid for at time of booking.

Free flights. You can redeem your Expedia+ points for any flight on Expedia. Just search for flights and it will quote you the price in points. In general, you will receive a value of approximately 0.6 cents per point when redeeming for flights.

Charitable donations. You can donate your points to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Every 3,500 points you redeem equals a $25 donation, 100% of which Expedia gives to St. Jude. That is a rate of 0.7 cents per point.

What does Expedia+ Silver and +Gold Status include?

With this card, you automatically have +Gold status as long as you are a cardmember. If you didn’t have this card, you would either have to book 15 nights or spend $10,000 in calendar year to achieve +Gold status.

Here’s a big chart that outlines the benefits between all three tiers:

expedia_tiers_small

I would say the primary benefit is that with +Gold you get a 30% bonus on your base points earned on travel booked through Expedia. Also, only +Gold members can get free room upgrades at +VIP Access™ hotels (based on availability). Another benefit is “exclusive perks” at select ++VIP Access™ hotels, such as a free mini-bar access, free parking, or resort credits. Finally, +Silver and +Gold members earn an additional 250 points per +VIP Access booking.

Final Thoughts

The Expedia®+ Voyager Card from Citi is best for people who already use Expedia regularly for booking travel (or another price comparison site and are willing to switch to Expedia). The strength of this card is similar to Expedia itself – faster rewards while picking the cheapest hotel and flight every time, instead of sometimes paying a premium because you want to maintain loyalty or “status” perks.

Here’s an example of using the card to accelerate your Expedia rewards. If you used this card to pay for a $550 hotel booking on Expedia, you could earn the base 2 Expedia+ points per $1 spent, plus another 0.6 points per $1 spent from Gold+ status (30%), plus 4 Expedia+ points from the credit card. That adds up to 6.6 points per dollar spent, or 3,630 points. That is already enough to get you a $50 +VIP Access™ hotels coupon (3,500 points). $50 is over 9% of $550.

In addition to this card, there is also a no-annual-fee version called the Expedia®+ Card from Citi. I would lean towards this Voyager version because it comes with an $100 annual air travel fee credit good towards checked bags and either the Global Entry or TSA Precheck® application fee. That $100 can be used to offset the $95 annual fee. Once you cancel those two out, you’re left with a bigger sign-up bonus, no foreign transaction fees, and the better ongoing perks of +Gold status.

However, if you do keep to a specific chain of hotels (i.e. Hilton, Marriott, Starwood) then your net rewards may work out better if you have the chain-specific cards. Personally, I just don’t use Expedia enough to justify getting this card. If you are looking for simple, cash back rewards in a Citi card, I would recommend checking out the Citi Double Cash Card.

Expedia+ Credit Card from Citi Review

expediaplusExpedia.com has revamped their in-house loyalty rewards program. Citi and Expedia have partnered on a new set of co-branded credit cards. What does the combination mean for the frugal traveler? This review covers the standard, no annual fee version.

Why use Expedia in the first place? If you book all of your travel through a travel shopping engine, that most likely means you would rather have the lowest price than be loyal to any specific chain. You might stay at a Holiday Inn, then a Hilton, and then a Sheraton. Or fly on American, then Delta, then United. Indeed, Expedia even offers a “Best Rate Guarantee” against booking elsewhere, for which I have successfully claimed the $50 travel coupon in the past:

Find a cheaper flight, vacation package, rental car, cruise or activity within 24 hours of booking and we’ll refund the difference, plus give you a $50 travel coupon for future travel. For hotels, we go even further: If you find a cheaper rate on your hotel reservation up to two days before your check-in, we will refund the difference and give you a $50 travel coupon for future travel. If you’re an Expedia+ rewards member, we’ll match your hotel price until midnight before check-in.

The Expedia®+ Card from Citi is meant to help Expedia users earn and redeem travel rewards faster Although it doesn’t show on the front of the card, it is a MasterCard. Here are the highlights:

  • Earn a $50 statement credit after your first eligible Expedia purchase greater than $50 within 3 months of account opening*
  • PLUS, earn 10,000 Expedia+ rewards bonus points after $1,000 in purchases within 3 months of account opening*
  • Points redeemable for $100 in coupons at +VIP AccessTM hotels or $50 at other hotels*
  • 3 Expedia+ bonus points per $1 spent on eligible Expedia purchases including flights, hotels, activities and vacation packages*
  • 1 Expedia+ bonus point per $1 spent on other purchases*
  • Expedia+ silver status is complimentary for as long as you are a cardmember*
  • Earn one Elite Qualifying Hotel Night towards Expedia+ gold status for each increment of $2,500 in purchases made on the card between your January and December billing statements*
  • No annual fee.

Expedia+ points fuel the revamped free rewards program available to all Expedia customers. To apply for this credit card, you must first sign in or register for a rewards account at Expedia.com.

How do you earn Expedia+ Points?

When you book eligible travel on Expedia (including vacation packages, hotels, flights, cruises, and activities), you earn points. Note that when you book flights, you still earn frequent flyer miles as well as Expedia+ rewards points. For hotel stays, double-dipping ability varies by the chain. The following earning methods are open to all Expedia users:

  • 2 points per $1 spent on hotels or Vacation Packages that include a hotel.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on activities or select cruises.
  • 1 point per $5 spent on flights.
  • Other special, limited-time promotions, for example using their mobile apps.

By using this credit card and/or attaining elite status, you can get the following boosts:

  • 10% bonus on your base points earned with +Silver status (+Silver is free with this card)
  • 30% bonus on your base points earned with +Gold status
  • Both +Silver and +Gold members earn an additional 250 points per booking at a +VIP Access hotel.
  • 3 Expedia+ bonus points per $1 spent on this card, on eligible Expedia purchases including flights, hotels, activities and vacation packages*
  • 1 Expedia+ bonus point per $1 spent on this card, on other purchases*

Since you earn based on your total amount spent, this works out well for people booking for entire families or other groups of people.

How do you redeem Expedia+ Points?

Here’s a breakdown of the redemption options for Expedia+ points. There are no “blackout dates”.

Discounted hotel stays. 3,500 points will get you a $25 hotel coupon valid at any Expedia Rate hotel. Alternatively, 3,500 points will get you a $50 coupon valid at +VIP Access hotels. So the conversion rate is either 0.7 cents per point or 1.4 cents per point. The minimum redemption is 3,500 points, but you can do multiples of it up to a $1,000 coupon.

expedia_redeem_reg

expedia_redeem_vip

To get an idea of what the hotel types mean, you can run any search on Expedia and look for “Expedia Rate” or filter by “+VIP Access” under the More button. Here are some results for Honolulu, HI on a random date:

expedia_hotel_reg

expedia_hotel_vip

In general, +VIP Access hotels tend to be more luxurious, although not always. Finally, here are the common rules for both Expedia Rate and VIP Access coupon types:

Coupons can be used once. Any leftover value is void. A coupon can be applied to only one hotel room per booking. Coupon values don’t apply to taxes or fees. Once a coupon is claimed, it can not be refunded. A coupon is valid for one year from the date you create it. Coupons can only be used on reservations paid for at time of booking.

Free flights. You can redeem your Expedia+ points for any flight on Expedia. Just search for flights and it will quote you the price in points. In general, you will receive a value of approximately 0.6 cents per point when redeeming for flights.

Charitable donations. You can donate your points to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Every 3,500 points you redeem equals a $25 donation, 100% of which Expedia gives to St. Jude. That is a rate of 0.7 cents per point.

What does Expedia+ Silver and +Gold Status include?

With this card, you automatically have +Silver status as long as you are a cardmember. If you didn’t have this card, you would either have to book 7 nights or spend $5,000 in calendar year to achieve +Silver status. This is upped to 15 nights or $10,000 for +Gold status.

Here’s a big chart that outlines the benefits between all three tiers:

expedia_tiers_small

I would say the primary benefit is that with +Silver you get a 10% bonus on your base points earned on travel booked through Expedia (+Gold gets a 30% bonus). Another benefit is “exclusive perks” at select +VIP Access hotels, such as a free mini-bar access, free parking, or resort credits. +Gold members can get free room upgrades at +VIP Access hotels, but +Silver members do not. Finally, +Silver and +Gold members earn an additional 250 points per +VIP Access booking.

Final Thoughts

The Expedia®+ Card from Citi is best for people who use Expedia regularly for booking travel, but don’t want to pay an annual fee. The strength of this card is the same as Expedia itself – you get to pick the cheapest hotel and flight every time, instead of sometimes paying a premium because you want to maintain loyalty or “status” perks. In order to maximize your value, you should redeem your points for +VIP Access hotels at 1.4 cents per point value, which means you mostly like to redeem for “nicer” hotels. The other redemption options are okay in a pinch, but nothing special at 0.6-0.7 cents per point value.

But wait, there is also a Expedia®+ Voyager Card from Citi that has a bigger sign-up bonus and better ongoing perks (and an annual fee). I can understand not wanting to pay an annual fee, but if you really are a serious Expedia user, at least consider it because there is an $100 annual air travel fee credit than can offset its $95 annual fee. The Voyager version also has bigger sign-up bonus, no foreign transaction fees, and the better ongoing perks of +Gold status.

If you do keep to a specific chain of hotels (i.e. Hilton, Marriott, Starwood) then your net rewards will probably work out better if you have the chain-specific cards. Personally, I just don’t use Expedia enough to justify getting this card. If instead you are looking for simple, cash back rewards in a Citi card, I would recommend checking out the Citi Double Cash Card.

Data Breach Counter Tool: Exactly What Personal Information Has Been Exposed?

The New York Times has come out with another neat interactive tool that provides a sobering count of both how many and what types of your personal information has been exposed to hackers. I like that they break things down as exposing your e-mail address is very different than your Social Security Number.

Half of American adults had their personal information exposed to hackers last year alone. In a recent attack at the federal Office of Personnel Management, hackers stole the most sensitive personal data for 21.5 million people.

I took the quiz and here are my results:

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 7.06.39 PM

All in all, I would say it could be worse. My credit and debit cards all have “zero fraud liability” and I carefully go through each statement every month. The scariest part is that the worst data breaches will probably occur where you couldn’t do anything about it. For example, the recent governmental database breach involved every single person given a government background check for the last 15 years. That hack exposed Social Security Numbers, financial histories, employment records, and fingerprints.

The advice that the NYT gives is to make sure you have different passwords for every website, and to turn on two-factor authentication whenever possible. As I’ve noted, I use 1Password and I definitely love the feature set but admit it is somewhat expensive. All my accounts now have passwords that look like “j6VQDqa$oE2zYa” and I can access them with a thumbprint on my iPhone. The website TwoFactorAuth.org is a useful database of which sites offer two-factor authentication (2FA). There are still many financial sites that don’t support 2FA.

History of 0% APR Interest Rates + Who’s Carrying a Monthly Balance?

From 2005 to 2007, a peek at my credit report might have revealed that I had over $30,000 in credit card debt. The good news is that I borrowed it at 0% APR and then immediately stashed it in an FDIC-insured bank account earning 6% interest at times. Just recently, a US presidential candidate disclosed an “up to $15k” credit card balance at 27% APR, which prompted Quoctrong Bui of NPR Planet Money to research how interest rates on credit cards have changed over time. I converted the interactive chart into an animated picture which cycles you from 2001 to 2013:

aprhistory

There’s also a chart showing the percentage of cardholders who pay off their balance in any given month, based on their FICO score.

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Some observations:

The rise of 0% APR interest rates. In 2001, nobody was getting 0% APR interest rates. In 2004, there was a huge spike and that was basically “Peak 0% APR”. Since then, 0% rates have stayed around, gradually decreasing in popularity, until 2013 when there was again a slight uptick.

This doesn’t account for the changing length of 0% APR promotional periods. In 2005, there were a lot of 0% APR offers but they were usually for 6 to 12 months. As overall interest rates have remained very low across the board, there aren’t quite as many 0% APR offers available, but the best ones are for longer terms – up to 24 months.

Right now, you can get 0% APR for 15 months with no balance transfer fee, or 0% APR at 21 months with a balance transfer fee.

The big difference between the average cardholder with a 700 FICO and a 800 FICO score. I’ve always felt that anything above roughly 700 to 740 FICO was a “good enough” score with which I was rarely, if ever, denied credit. From the second chart above, you can flip the numbers to state that:

  • 77% of folks with a 700 FICO carry a balance each month.
  • 64% of folks with a 740 FICO carry a balance each month.
  • 27% of folks with a 800 FICO carry a balance each month.

On the other hand, even 27% is higher than I though it would be. A lot of people with “good” and even “excellent” credit carry balances each month.

How many people are carrying balances after the 0% introductory period ends? Obviously, there is a reason that 0% APR offers are still around. But that reason isn’t completely explained above. Does 0% APR encourage “new” debt from people who wouldn’t otherwise carry a balance? For example, is it possible to look at 6 or 12 months after the 0% intro period ends, and see if that marks an increase in balances? Or are 0% APRs mainly a tactic to attract balances already held at other card companies?

If you DO pay your balances in full, you can still reap the benefits of your good credit score without paying interest. It’s now been a while since I was earning thousands of dollars in “free money” from 0% balance transfers. But the silver lining is that back in 2007 a “good” sign-up bonus was $100 while nowadays you can easily find credit card bonuses with $500 value. I would say it is even less work to manage a few new cards a year vs. juggling 0% balance transfers which required making last-minute payments to maximize interest earned, and thus worrying about missing a payment deadline.

A quick smartphone snapshot of credit cards in my wallet shows well over $2,000 of accrued bonus value – 2 free nights at any Hilton hotel for which I got over $1,000 value, $800 in American Airlines airfare (separate $500 in airfare credits offset the annual fee), 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points good for $500 in travel, and 40,000 American miles (former US Airways card). This is addition to any cash back/miles/points for purchases, free checked bags, or extended warranty perks.

aprhistory2

Consumer Reports on Auto Insurance: Watch Your Credit Score, Shopping Behavior

cr_auto0Consumer Reports (CR) has released a multi-part Special Report on Auto Insurance, included in their September 2015 print issue but also available online without a subscription (at least for now). They analyzed over 2 billion quotes from over 700 companies across 33,419 zip codes. Here are some highlights of what they found.

First, here’s a big picture view of which major car insurers are more expensive on average.

cr_auto1

The biggest individual factor in your premium may be your credit score. Clicking on your state on this 50-state interactive map will give you an idea of the effect of having a “poor” or merely “good” credit score as opposed to an “excellent” one. California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts are the only states that prohibit insurers from using credit scores to set prices.

Often, having a poor credit score with clean driving record is more expensive than having an excellent credit with a DUI/DWI! Here’s a screenshot for Florida:

cr_auto2

Another important factor is your loyalty and tendency to comparison shop other items like cable TV. You often think “Loyalty Discount”, but often there is a “Loyalty Penalty”. If you don’t shop your auto insurance, some companies don’t see something to be rewarded; they see a sucker. In my limited experience, the companies with the lowest quotes to entice you from another company are also the ones to hike up the rates every year afterward. Here’s what CR found:

Geico Casualty gave us whiplash with its $3,267 loyalty penalty in New Jersey and its $888 discount just across the state line in New York for longtime customers. State Farm Mutual consistently provided discounts of a couple of dollars up to a few hundred dollars; Allstate Fire and Casualty and Allstate Property & Casualty tended to prefer penalties.

As noted in a previous post, Big Data knows if you’re comparison shopping or not. Such “price optimization” occurs when they find out you could have saved money somewhere else like broadband internet, but didn’t. Not a price-sensitive shopper? You may get the higher rates. Even states that officially ban the practice don’t really have any foolproof way to know if it’s happening. Here’s what CR found:

Amica Mutual and State Farm told us they don’t use price optimization. Representatives from Allstate, Geico, Progressive, and USAA declined to discuss price optimization.

Here’s the general conclusion:

What we found is that behind the rate quotes is a pricing process that judges you less on driving habits and increasingly on socioeconomic factors. These include your credit history, whether you use department-store or bank credit cards, and even your TV provider. Those measures are then used in confidential and often confounding scoring algorithms.

What can a consumer do about all this? Consumer Reports wants you to write to your state’s insurance commissioner, and they have a petition template ready for you. David Merkel of The Aleph Blog says you should simply fight back the market-based way: comparison shop your personal insurance lines every 3 years.

Bid it out. Bid it out. Bid it out. What do you have to lose? If loyalty means something to the insurer, they will likely win the bid. If it doesn’t, they will likely lose. Either way you will win. If you have an agent, they will note that you are price-sensitive. The agent will become more of an ally, even if it doesn’t seem that way.

[…] You don’t need transparency, or more regulation. You don’t get transparency in the pricing of many items. You do need to bid out your business every now and then. You are your own best defender in matters like this. Take your opportunity and bid out your policies.

I tend to agree with Mr. Merkel. However, I am still a long-time customer with State Farm. I’m happy to see that State Farm was found to consistently providing loyalty discounts and claims not to engage in price optimization. I shopped around for auto quotes in 2013 and GEICO was cheaper by about $372 a year. However, I had to balance that with the knowledge that GEICO will probably hike my premiums every year and also I’ve had excellent claim service from State Farm. Perhaps it is time for another comparison shop.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card – 75,000 Bonus Points Promo

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citihilton180emvLimited-time offer. The sign-up bonus for this card has also been bumped-up for a limited time. The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card, from our partner Citi, is their no-annual fee co-branded card and comes with the following perks:

  • Limited Time: Earn 75,000 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points after making $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • Earn 6 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent at any participating hotel within the Hilton portfolio.*
  • Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on purchases at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations.*
  • Earn 2 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on all other purchases.*
  • Enjoy the benefits of HHonors Silver status as long as you are a cardmember*
  • No annual fee.*

This card is ideal for people who at least occasionally stay at Hilton hotels (as this card is also giving you a bunch of points and complimentary Silver status to try and get you to become more loyal). Hilton HHonors points are worth the most when redeemed for a hotel stay, as there aren’t really that many great cash-equivalent redemption options.

Silver Status perks include:

  • 15% bonus on all the HHonors Base Points you earn.
  • 5th night free on Standard Room Reward stays of 5 nights or more.
  • Complimentary in-room and lobby Standard Internet access during stays at Waldorf Astoria™ Hotels & Resorts, Conrad® Hotels & Resorts, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton™, Canopy™ by Hilton, Embassy Suites Hotels™ and Hilton Grand Vacations™
  • Two complimentary bottles of water per stay (at Waldorf Astoria™ Hotels & Resorts, Conrad® Hotels & Resorts, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton™, Embassy Suites Hotels™, Hilton Garden Inn™ and Hilton Grand Vacations™ hotels)

Hilton points redemption varies from month to month. You can use this search tool to see how much a hotel will cost in any specific area (i.e. Honolulu or Paris). Here are some example redemptions for the month of June:

  • Honolulu, Hawaii. Hilton Waikiki Beach is 40,000 points. Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort is 50,000 points.
  • San Francisco, California. Hilton San Francisco Union Square is 50,000 points.
  • Orlando, Florida. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando is 20,000 points.
  • London, UK. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London – Tower of London is 60,000 points.

This Citi Hilton card is the version with no annual fee, the first year or any future year. If you have this card and are looking to sign-up again, please note this fine print:

Hilton HHonors Bonus Points offer not available if you have had a Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card account that was opened or closed in the past 18 months.

There is also another card called the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card which has a $95 annual fee, but has better ongoing perks. I personally have the Reserve, but I can understand that some people prefer no annual fee.

Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card: 80,000 Bonus Points Limited Time Promo

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit CardLimited-time offer. Most travel cards offer an ongoing sign-up bonus, but it’s even better when you snag them during a limited-time bump-up – this time it is the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase. The last time I wrote about their limited-time offer was a year ago. The highlights for new Marriott cardholder include:

  • Limited Time! Earn 80,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Enjoy 1 Free Night Stay at a Category 1-5 location every year after your account anniversary date!
  • For every $1 spent, earn 5 points at 3,800 Marriott locations, 2 points on airline ticket purchases directly with airlines, at car rental agencies & restaurants and 1 point everywhere else
  • No limit to how many points you can earn
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees and enjoy wider acceptance when you travel with your embedded chip card and you make purchases at chip-enabled card readers
  • $85 Annual Fee

We’ve started traveling again as a family, so I looked through Marriott’s redemption offerings. Marriott properties include Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance Hotels, Courtyard, Residence Inn, and Fairfield Inn & Suites. You can view their redemption chart here. Redeem 4 nights and get the 5th night free. Hotels on their PointSavers list have temporarily reduced redemption costs.

80,000 points is enough to get you a night at any Ritz-Carlton in the world. Or, 80,000 points can get you two nights at any Category 8 or Ritz-Carlton Tier 1 hotel. Or, it could get you eight nights at a Category 2 hotel. The free night award can be used for up to a Category 5 hotel. In the top right corner of the redemption chart link, you can view a comprehensive list of what hotels are in any specific category. Here are some options that caught my eye.

Ritz Carlton Tier 5 (Highest tier, 70,000 points a night)

Category 8 Hotels (40,000 points per night, 35,000 if Pointsaver)

Category 7 Hotels (35,000 points per night, 30,000 if Pointsaver)

Category 6 Hotels (30,000 points per night, 25,000 if Pointsaver)

Ritz Carlton Tier 1 (30,000 points per night, 20,000 if Pointsaver)

Category 4 Hotels (Eligible with Cat 1-5 Certificate or 20,000 points per night standard, 15,000 if Pointsaver)

  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista at Vista Centre
  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando at SeaWorld®
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando Lake Buena Vista in the Marriott Village
  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando International Drive/Convention Center
  • Orlando: SpringHill Suites Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando International Drive/Convention Center

Adding up the value of two Cat 7 nights (2x 35k) and a Category 2 night (10k) is going to be easily over $500 of value, possibly closer to $700-$800. But as always, hotel points are only good if you can use and enjoy them. Poke around their award listings – Marriott has a lot of different hotel brands to choose from. The Courtyards I’ve stayed in have been modernized and updated, while SpringHill Suites are nice for families. I’ve also gotten to stay at some terrific properties thanks to such point promotions, although I tend to value location and convenience over the bling factor. There is an $85 annual fee that is not waived the first year.

If you’ve gotten a bonus from this Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card within the last 2 years, please note the following:

This 80,000 bonus point offer is available to you as long as you have not received a new cardmember bonus for this product in the past 24 months.

I was wrong initially as Marriott points are convertible to gift cards, but it takes 60,000 points to redeem for a $200 gift card for Marriott or retailers like Best Buy, Home Depot, or Nordstrom. That ratio isn’t all that great, you’ll definitely get the most value out of your points if you stay at Marriott hotels.

On your account anniversary, you’ll get a certificate for a free Category 1-5 night which you can weigh against another $85 annual fee. As long as you can use that certificate for a decent hotel, getting $85 value is certainly achievable. For example, a random night at the (Category 4) Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista at Vista Centre was $115 when including taxes.

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“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.”

5% Cash Back Credit Cards: Rotating Categories Update 2015

3rd quarter activation for 2015 now open! The credit cards below offer a hefty 5% cash back on certain categories that rotate each quarter. It takes a little extra attention, but I also rack up over a hundred dollars in additional rewards per year without changing my spending habits. None of these have an annual fee, so it costs me nothing to keep them all around. New cardmembers often also get an initial sign-on bonus.

Chase Freedom® – $100 Bonus
Chase Freedom Image

From July 1st through September 30th, 2015 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Gas Stations
  • Kohl’s

Enroll each quarter at ChaseBonus.com, it’s quick and as long as you activate by the end of the quarter the rewards are retroactive. All other purchases earn 1% back, with no tiers or expiration of rewards. Currently, the Chase Freedom® card is offering $100 bonus cash back if you sign up and make just $500 in purchases in your first three months and a $25 Bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within this same 3-month period. No annual fee.

Discover it 14 ImageDiscover it® Double Cash Back your first year

From July 1st through September 30th, 2015, you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Home Improvement Stores
  • Department Stores
  • Amazon.com

Enroll after logging into your online account (look on the right-hand side). Discover it Double Cash Back your first year is offering new cardholders a promotion that doubles all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year – automatically. That means 5% can be doubled to effectively 10% off!

Citi Dividend Platinum Select Visa CardCiti® Dividend Platinum Select® Visa® Card

From July 1st through September 30th, 2015, you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Airlines
  • Hilton’s Portfolio of Brands

Log into your online account or call 1-800-231-0891 to activate the rewards each quarter (starts upon activation, not retroactive). The total cash back earned with the card is $300 per calendar year.  See Citi Dividend Card Reward Program Information for details. Full 1% cash back on all other purchases and eligible cash advances and rewards do not expire as long as you have activity once every 12 months.

Finally, don’t settle for the “1% on everything else” that these cards offer, get 2% back on everything else with either the Citi Double Cash or Fidelity American Express credit cards:

“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 Freedom: $100 Sign-Up Bonus + 2015 5% Cash Back Categories

Chase Freedom Image

3rd Quarter 5% cash-back categories now open for activation.The Chase Freedom® – $100 Bonus is a popular rewards card, due primarily to the fact that there is no annual fee and the ability to get 5% Cash Back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter.

Here are all the highlights:

  • Named a Best Card for Cash Back by MONEY® Magazine
  • Earn a $100 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn another $25 Bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within this same 3-month period.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After the intro period, a variable APR of 13.99-22.99%
  • Unlimited 1% Cash Back on every purchase
  • 5% Total Cash Back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter
  • You’ll enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months like Gas stations, Restaurants and Amazon.com. It’s free and easy to activate your bonus each quarter!
  • No annual fee and rewards never expire as long as your account is open

2015 5% Cash Back Categories

freedom2015q3

From April through June 2015:

  • Restaurants
  • H&M
  • Bed Bath and Beyond
  • Overstock.com

From July through September 2015 (activate starting 6/15/15):

  • Gas Stations
  • Kohl’s

Activate each quarter at ChaseBonus.com or call the number on the back of the card.  The categories usually include at least one big-spending area, and seem to go with the seasons (home improvement for spring, gas and travel for the summer). This is another “keeper” card for me, as I can keep it around and use it when the bonus categories fit my spending needs.

 

Chase Freedom Visa Banner

“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.”

 

 

Discover it Card Double Cash Back For 12 Months Promotion

Discover it 14 ImageDiscover has announced a new promotion for their Discover it Double Cash Back your first year. In addition to all the existing perks like 5% cash back categories and free monthly FICO score outlined in my Discover it Double Cash Back your first year review, they are also adding “Double all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your 1st year—automatically.” for new applicants.

That means you would effectively earn 2% cash back on all purchases and 10% cash back on their rotating bonus categories during the first year of card membership. Here’s what we know about the bonus categories for the rest of 2015:

discovercat2015

  • April through June 2015 is Restaurants and Movies. “Discover Cardmembers are signing up to get 5% Cashback Bonus on up to $1,500 in Restaurant and Movie purchases from now through June 2015.” Restaurants include full-service restaurants, cafes, cafeterias and fast food locations. Movies includes movie theaters, video rental stores, and online movie ticket services.
  • July through September 2015 is Home Improvement Stores, Department Stores, and Amazon.com. “Discover Cardmembers will sign up to get 5% Cashback Bonus on up to $1,500 in purchases in Home Improvement Stores, Department Stores, and Amazon.com from July through September 2015.”
  • October through December 2015 is Holiday Shopping. “Discover Cardmembers will sign up to get 5% Cashback Bonus when they shop for the holidays. Exciting program details, including the maximum you could earn, are coming August 2015.”

I know I certainly wouldn’t mind getting 10% back at restaurants, Home Depot, and Amazon.com. Gas stations were the rotating category from January to March 2015, so hopefully that will come back again early next year as well.

(Note: Depending on your usage of the 5% (again, doubled would be 10%) categories, you should also consider the Discover it Miles Card which also has a doubling offer for new applicants that works out to 3% cash back for the first 12 months.)

Discover also has a new feature called “Freeze It” that allows you to stop any new purchases in seconds by “freezing” your account via mobile app or website.

When you freeze your account, Discover will not authorize new purchases, cash advances or balance transfers. However, some activity will continue, including bills that merchants mark as recurring, as well as returns, credits, dispute adjustments, payments, Discover protection product fees, other account fees, interest, rewards redemptions and certain other exempted transactions.

There is also 0% intro APR on purchases & balance transfers for 12 months (then a variable purchase APR applies, currently 10.99% – 22.99%. A 3% fee applies to each transferred balance).

I have a Discover it card as a “keeper” card as it has no annual fee and I can enjoy the 5% bonus categories and free FICO score whenever it suits me. Discover’s policy in the past had been to only allow one card per person, but now you can have two (i.e. you can have both a Discover it and a Discover it Miles.)

  • Discover it® Double Cash Back your first year Application