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

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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

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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:

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  • 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

Citi Prestige and Global Entry Application Fee Reimbursement Experience

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After researching the details for my Citi Prestige Card review, I went ahead and applied for one since I felt I could get over $1,400 of value in exchange for the $450 annual fee. Part of that would come from the $100 application fee credit they give you when you apply for the Global Entry Program.

(Side note: I applied for the card and actually got an instant rejection online. Naturally, I was disappointed and planned on calling their reconsideration line in a few days. But before I got the chance, I was sent the card in a fancy welcome package via Next-Day Air. Curious!)

Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check Highlights. Here is a brief description of the Global Entry program from the Citi Prestige page:

Global Entry Membership allows international travelers expedited entry upon arrival in United States, by using automated kiosks when entering the United States. Once approved, Global Entry members can use automated kiosks in most major U.S. airports, rather than having to go through the traditional arrival process. There is a $100 application fee payable to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) which administers the program. As a benefit of the Citi Prestige Card, Citi will provide one statement credit for this $100 application fee, once the fee is charged to the account. The $100 application fee credit will reset once every 5 years.

Global Entry automatically includes membership to TSA Pre-Check, which provides expedited security screening at participating airports in the US for eligible travelers. If in the (ideally shorter and faster-moving) TSA Pre-Check line, you won’t have to remove your belt, shoes, light jacket, or take out your your laptop from carry-on. See this Trusted Traveler Program comparison chart for details. TSA Pre-Check is open to U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents.

You can also just apply to TSA Pre-Check separately, but that costs $85 on its own and also only lasts 5 years. Considering it would be reimbursed either way, it was a no-brainer for me to just apply to Global Entry for $100. Here is a brief summary of the qualification criteria for Global Entry:

To qualify you must be a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent residents of the U.S., and citizens of certain other countries are eligible for Global Entry membership provided that they:
*Have never been convicted of a criminal offense in any country
*Have never been found in violation of customs, immigration or agricultural laws
*Do not provide false or incomplete information on their application
*Are not the subject of an investigation by any Federal, State, or local law enforcement agency.

Global Entry Application Process. I applied on 5/6 and was given “conditional approval” on 5/10. That meant that I was allowed to go online and schedule my in-person interview at my nearest Global Entry Enrollment Center, which for me (and probably most people) was at the US Customs and Border Patrol office at an international airport. I could have gotten a spot in under a week, but based on my availability the best time was 8 days later on 5/18.

The interview involved bringing my passport and one additional form of identification, answering some brief interview questions, standing for a mugshot and thumbprints, and finally watching a short 5-minute video on the rules of Global Entry. It took about 30 minutes including wait time.

That same day, I was notified online that I was approved and given my Global Entry membership number which can be used as part of the Trusted Traveler Program. I quickly typed this number into my frequent flier accounts in the hopes of getting expedited TSA Pre-Check lines for my upcoming travel. A few days later I received a physical membership card via US postal mail. The Global Entry card can be used for border crossing by car or boat.

Citi Prestige Fee Reimbursement Timeline. The terms and conditions state the following:

Citi Prestige® account cardmembers are eligible to receive one (1) statement credit per account, every five (5) years up to $100, for either the Global Entry or the TSA Pre Check® application fee. Cardmember must charge the application fee of at least $85 to their Citi Prestige® Card to be eligible for the statement credit. Cardmembers will receive a statement credit for the first program (either Global Entry or TSA Pre Check®) to which they apply and pay for with their eligible card, regardless of whether they are approved for Global Entry or TSA Pre Check®.

The one (1) statement credit every five (5) years for the application fee charged to the Citi Prestige® credit card account is applied by Citi directly to the card account. Please allow 1-2 billing cycles after the qualifying Global Entry or TSA Pre ? ® is charged to the eligible account for the statement credit to be posted to the account.

Even though the terms tell you to allow 1-2 billing cycles, I was credited the $100 right before the close of the statement cycle in which I made the $100 application fee charge (along with my $450 annual fee). For example, my first statement cycle closed 5/18 and here is a screenshot from my account:

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People with kids should note that while TSA Pre-Check allows children 12 and under to go with you in line without separate membership, Global Entry requires every single person (no matter the age) to have their own separate Global Entry membership in order to use the special kiosks.

Capital One Spark Business Credit Cards: $500 or 50,000 Miles Bonus

sparkyLooks like the small business credit card competition is heating up. Capital One has temporarily upped the sign-up bonus on both of their small business cards:

Capital One Spark® Cash for Business is offering a one-time $500 cash bonus once you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first 3 months. There is a $59 annual fee that is waived for the first year. “Existing or previous Accountholders may not be eligible for this one-time bonus.” Note that there is also a Spark Select for Business and Spark Classic that are different cards with lower sign-up bonsues but no annual fee.

The Spark Cash for Business offers 2% cash back for all purchases, which is strong, but you have to weigh that against the $59 annual fee after the first year. If it was 2% with no annual fee, that would be keeper business card for sure. Just comparing the two CapOne cards head-to-head, you have to spend more than $11,800 every year to make the 2% back and $59 annual fee (Spark Cash) pay out more rewards than 1.5% back and no annual fee (Spark Cash Select).

Capital One Spark® Miles for Business is offering one-time bonus of 50,000 miles – equal to $500 in travel- once you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first 3 months. There is a $59 annual fee that is waived for the first year. “Existing or previous Accountholders may not be eligible for this one-time bonus.” Similar to the offer above, the Spark Miles offers 2 miles per dollar with the $59 annual fee but there is also a Spark® Miles Select for Business that offers 1.5 miles per dollar with no annual fee.

As far as “normal” small business spend, I usually don’t charge more than $12,000 a year on my small business. My primary expenses are web hosting, cell phone, internet, and office equipment. But if you spend a lot on stuff that doesn’t fit in the 5%/2% bonus categories of the Chase Ink Cash or Chase Ink Plus cards (office supply, internet, cell phone, cable TV, gas stations, restaurants), then these cards may be a good fit as a primary small business card.

Here are some selected quotes from the fine print for the Spark Cash card (not Miles):

How does my spend bonus work?
You will earn a $500 bonus if you spend at least $4,500 within 3 months of your rewards membership enrollment date. Once you qualify for this bonus, we will apply it to your rewards balance within two billing cycles. Existing or previous Accountholders may not be eligible for this one-time bonus.

How do I redeem my rewards?
You can get your cash back upon request in the form of a statement credit or a check. You can also set up an automatic redemption preference; options include: (1) at a set time each calendar year or (2) when a specific threshold ($25, $50, $100 or $200) has been reached. Just go online to capitalone.com or contact our Rewards Center. […] Until you set up an automatic redemption preference, you will receive your cash back each year in the form of a check issued in your rewards membership anniversary month.

I’m not sure why someone would pick the miles over the cash, since the miles are restricted to use over travel. My theory is that some businesses like that the miles aren’t cash because then they can be given out as a non-taxable perk like other frequent flier miles?

Note: I do not receive any referral fees for the application links above. They are the best publicly-available offers that I could find. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

Chase Ink Cash Business Card Review: $200 Cash Bonus, 5% Back Categories, No Annual Fee

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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.

Card highlights:

  • Earn $200 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 20,000 points = $200 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: 50,000 Rewards Points Bonus

Chase Ink Plus Card Art

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 50,000 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:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $625 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
  • Global acceptance with Chip Technology
  • Free employee cards
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95

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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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 Review

United Mileage Plus Explorer Card The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is now offering 30,000 United miles after spending $1,000 in 3 months.  A card specifically designed for those who fly United, and fly them often.

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

  • Start with 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • Check your first bag for free – save up to $100 per roundtrip
  • 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.

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.

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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.”

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:

ty1

Expedia.com screenshot:

ty2

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)

hiltonreserveThe 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 after spending $2,500 in purchases within 4 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:

  • 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:

citihiltoncert

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:

citihiltoncert2

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 (so you can get it twice under one annual fee), 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.