Platinum Delta Skymiles American Express Companion Certificate

amexdeltaplatThe Delta American Express card line-up has some limited-time bonus bumps going on right now. Offer ends 11/9/16. In particular, I noticed that the Platinum Delta American Express is offering:

  • 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. If you care about elite status, you’ll get 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) as well (not actual redeemable miles).
  • In addition, earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
  • First bag checked free.
  • Enjoy a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card.
  • $195 annual fee, not waived the first year.

As with all American Express cards, the sign-up bonus is now only one per card per lifetime. If you’ve ever had this card, you can’t get the sign-up bonus again:

Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have or have had this product.

The companion certificate as deal-maker and deal-breaker. Frequent fliers often complain about Delta’s poor selection in international business-class redemptions, but some people (like me) just want economy seats to a Delta-served airport. If you regularly travel as a couple or otherwise buy two cross-country domestic economy tickets together on Delta, this companion certificate will easily offset the $195 annual fee all by itself. If you are wasting this free companion ticket, then this card probably won’t be worth keeping around. The paid tickets earn miles, MQDs, and MQMs, but the free ticket does not.

Note that you only earn the certificate upon renewal, so you won’t get it the first year and that means you’ll have paid $390 in annual fees by then. So the first year’s annual fee of $195 must be offset by the sign-up bonus. The limited-time offer of $100 statement credit + 70,000 Skymiles should do the trick, assuming you make decent use of the miles. With the Pay with Miles options, you should get at minimum a 1 cent a mile value. That would make it $100 + $700 – $195 annual fee = $605 value in the first year. For future years, you’ll need to get $200 value out of that companion certificate.

Geographical restrictions. If you live in the contiguous 48 states, you must travel roundtrip to/from the contiguous 48 states. If you live in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico or the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), then you can originate there to the contiguous 48.

You must pay applicable taxes and fees, which vary and depend upon the number of flight segments included in the itinerary. They will be no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments).

You can book your Delta flights using the certificate online without having to call in. In my experience, the class restrictions on the certificate have not prevented me from getting the lowest fare available, although it can happen. If I can get a $300 ticket for $25 in fees, then I still consider this card worth it given the other perks like one free checked bag per person. If I don’t use it myself, I can also book a flight for a friend/relative and have them pay me back in cash.

Example with screenshots. I have a live companion certificate in my account right now, and I just ran a test flight. Atlanta (ATL) to San Francisco (SFO), 11/23 to 11/30 roundtrip, flights DL 1401 outbound and flight DL 939 return. If I just searched for a single cash ticket, it would have cost $318.70. Two tickets would be $637.40. If I apply the companion certificate, the first ticket again costs $318.70 and the second ticket costs $0 + $28.20 in fees. The first paid ticket costs the exact same amount as it would have otherwise. Thus, my total savings with this certificate is $318.70 – $28.20 = $290.50. See screenshot below for details:

deltacompcert

Here’s a copy of the terms and conditions regarding the companion certificate:

Delta Platinum Companion Certificate at Renewal
Taxes/fees/restrictions: Companion Certificate is valid for one round-trip Main Cabin Companion ticket with the payment of applicable taxes and fees detailed below and the purchase of certain adult round-trip fares on published routings within the 48 contiguous United States. Residents of Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico or the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) must originate from there to the 48 contiguous United States and have an address on their SkyMiles account in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico or the USVI. Each year, the Companion Certificate will be made available for redemption on delta.com in your renewal month. Applicable government imposed taxes and fees vary and depend upon the number of flight segments included in the itinerary and are no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments). Basic Card Members (not Additional Card Members) with the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, Delta Reserve Credit Card, Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card, Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card, and Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card are eligible to receive the first checked bag fee waiver on Delta and Delta Connection carrier tickets. $35 fee for second checked bag. These allowances are subject to size/weight limits. Contact a Delta agent or visit delta.com for details. Taxes and fees are subject to change, are the responsibility of the passenger and must be paid at the time the primary ticket is purchased and the Companion ticket is issued. All fare rules, restrictions, advance purchase requirements, and availability are per rule of primary ticket fare purchased. Seats are only available in L,U,T,X,V classes of service and may not be available on all flights or markets. Companion tickets are not transferable once issued. Companion certificate cannot be combined with another offer or discount including, but not limited to, web fares, sale fares and eCoupons. Primary ticket and Companion ticket must be purchased with your Delta SkyMiles Credit Card. Both passengers must be booked on the same flights and dates, at the same time. Travel for Companion certificate must be booked and completed by the date on the front of certificate. Validity is not based on the calendar year. Redemption is available only on delta.com. Certificate terms and conditions may vary each year of Card Membership. Additional restrictions apply. See Companion Certificate for details.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card 40,000 Point Offer Review

citi-hilton-hhonors-75kThe Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card, from our partner Citi, is their no-annual fee.  Highlights:

  • Earn 40,000 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 4 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 months of October through December:

  • Honolulu, Hawaii. Hilton Waikiki Beach is 40,000 points. Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort is 50,000 points. (Cost may be higher from 12/20 to 12/31.)
  • San Francisco, California. Hilton San Francisco Union Square is 50,000 to 60,000 points.
  • Orlando, Florida. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando is 20,000 to 30,000 points.
  • New York City, NU. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel New York – Times Square South is 70,000 points. Hilton Times Square is 80,000 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 a bigger upfront bonus and ongoing perks. As you can see above, two free weekend nights can be worth over 160,000 Hilton points. I redeemed for nice stay in Hawaii myself, but I know that some people prefer the simplicity of having no annual fee.

“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.”

Marriott / Starwood Hotels Merger: Status Match, New Points Transfer Options

mr_spg2Marriott completed its acquisition of Starwood Hotels last week, and has already started the merging process for their loyalty rewards programs. Both programs will essentially be run separately for a while, but you can now match status and exchange points. The new name is Marriott International, although a full merger will not be completed until sometime in 2018. Here’s a quick summary of your options:

Manually link your Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Marriott Rewards (MR) accounts at this Starwood page or this Marriott page. They will not be linked automatically. You can only link one MR account to one SPG account (and vice versa), so you’ll need to merge any duplicate accounts first.

If you are an elite member of one program, your status will be matched in the other program. SPG Preferred Plus = Marriott Silver. SPG Gold = Marriott Gold. SPG Platinum = Marriott Platinum.

You can transfer points both ways with no fees. 3 Marriott points = 1 SPG point. You can transfer up to the full balance of your account in increments of 1,000 points into the linked account. Ex. 1,000 Marriott points = 333 SPG points. 1,000 SPG points = 3,000 SPG points. Transfers should be instantaneous.

Points transfer and expirations. Transferring into Starwood will help extend your Starwood points expiration, but transferring into Marriott will not help your Marriott points expiration. If your Marriott points are really going to expire soon, just move them all over to Starwood? Taken directly from their Frequently Asked Questions:

If I transfer points from my Rewards account to SPG, does it count as activity against points expiration?
Transfers don’t count as a qualifying activity in the Rewards program, so transferring points won’t keep your points balance from expiring.

If I transfer points from my SPG account to Rewards, does it count as activity against points expiration?
SPG Starpoints don’t expire as long as your account remains active. Linking and transfers count as activity.

Possible new transfer options. You can now mix and match the various external partners to get improved or previously-impossible transfer options, including:

  • 60,000 Marriott points = 20,000 SPG points = 25,000 American, Hawaiian, Delta, or Alaska Airlines miles.
  • 18,667 Starwood points = 56,000 Marriott points = 25,000 United Airlines miles.
  • 90,000 Starwood points = 270,000 Marriott points = 120,000 Southwest points and 7 nights in a Marriott category 1-5 hotel. Why is this handy? Earning 110,000 Southwest Airlines points in one year will get you the Southwest Airlines Companion pass which lets you choose a friend to fly with you for free – for this year and the next! – your paid or points-redemption tickets. (If you want to do this, do it quickly, as this option may end prematurely…)

Credit card considerations. Given the 3:1 ratio, Chase Marriott card now has bigger relative sign-up bonus, but SPG American Express has earns more rewards on all everyday purchases.

  • Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card can get you 80,000 + 7,500 Marriott points if you meet the purchase hurdle. 87,500 Marriott points = 29,166 Starwood points.
  • Starwood Preferred American Express can get you 25,000 Starwood points if you meet the purchase hurdle. You’ll also get 1 Starwood point per dollar spent = 3 Marriott points per dollar spent on all purchases.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard Review: 50,000 Points = $500 Limited-Time Bonus

BarclayCard Arrival World MasterCard

Limited-time bonus bump, updated review. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus(TM) World Elite MasterCard® is a travel rewards card that has opened up to new applications again, now with a limited-time sign-up bonus worth at least $500 and the annual fee is waived the first year. Here are the card highlights:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days – that’s enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Redeem for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise.  Redemption values vary.
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Chip technology, so paying for your purchases is more secure at chip-card terminals in the U.S. and abroad
  • Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months for each Balance Transfer made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, currently 16.49% or 20.49% or 23.49%, depending on your creditworthiness.  Please note, there is a fee for balance transfers
  • Complimentary online FICO® Credit Score
  • $89 annual fee waived for the first year

Rewards program details. With this card, you earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all purchases. There are no special categories. These miles (easier to think of them as points, really) are then redeemable towards travel booked from any merchant or retailer classified as Airlines, Travel Agencies & Tour Operators, Hotels, Motels & Resorts, Cruise Lines, Passenger Railways and Car Rental Agencies. That means you have the flexibility to redeem towards any airline purchase to any destination with no seat restrictions and no blackout dates.

So basically you just visit Delta.com or Expedia.com or Hilton.com and go buy a ticket with this credit card. You don’t need to use any specific portal. Let’s say you buy an airplane ticket for $250. Then, you visit your Barclaycard account website and you’ll offset your purchase. You’ll redeem 25,000 “miles” and see a $250 statement credit on your statement. (Accruing those 25,000 miles would have taken $12,500 in accumulated purchases, if not part of sign-up bonus or other incentive.) I’ve done this multiple times, and it always went smoothly with no issues.

Travel statement credit redemptions start at 10,000 miles for $100 toward a qualifying travel purchase of $100 or more made within the last 120 days. For example, you could use 10,000 points for a $100 credit towards a $200 plane ticket, if you wished.

On top of that, the card gives you a 5% miles rebate when you redeem for any travel. (The rebate was once 10% but has since been reduced.) So if you redeemed 50,000 miles, you would get 2,500 back in your account after about a week. Although this adds a layer of complexity, you can calculate that technically getting $500 of value out of 47,500 miles at 2X miles/$ spent works out to 2.11% cash back towards any travel.

Everything else (cash credits, gift cards, merchandise) offers a worse redemption ratio. Don’t bother. If you were going to bother, you shouldn’t get this card.

Comparison with alternatives. 2X miles is nice and the rebate adds a bit extra. However, this card also has an $89 annual fee that is waived for the first year. So for the first year you’re good, but the competition offers multiple cards earning close to 2% cash back with no annual fee at all. I’ll list them again below; see the card-specific reviews for details.

Doing the math, you would have to put over $80,000 in purchases on this card annually in order to get the 0.11% advantage to offset the $89 annual fee (after the 1st-year waiver). That’s a big number. Now, Barclaycard did offer me a second fee-free year when I called in to cancel the card a couple years back (your results may vary). This bought me enough time to spend all my miles. A backup option is to downgrade the card to the no annual fee version after a year. Barclays does offer instant approval; if you don’t get it call their credit analyst line at 1-866-408-4064.

Bottom line. Solid sign-up bonus. Flexible travel rewards card. Annual fee too high after the first year. Long-time readers know that I want to see a $500 net value over the first year before I try out a new credit card. Given the limited-time 50,000 miles/points is worth $500 on any travel purchase and the annual fee is waived during the first year, this card satisfies that hurdle. 2X miles on all purchases is also quite competitive. However, past the first year of ownership, I do not like the idea of eventually paying an $89 annual fee with a theoretical max of 2.11% back when I can get 2% back with no annual fee from other cards.

Pay Your Rent with Credit Card With No Fees With RadPad and Android Pay

Update: This offer was ended early, basically saying they had to break their word because they were faced with huge losses. Not a well-run promotion.

radpad0With a new promotion by RadPad and Android Pay, you can pay your rent with a credit card (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) and earn points/miles/cash rewards through the end of 2016. Your landlord will simply receive a check on your behalf from RadPad.

Android Pay requires an NFC-enabled Android device running KitKat 4.4+ and the Android Pay app. A partial list includes LG G4, LG G5, HTC One M9, HTC 10, Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, Samsung Galaxy S6 and S7, and Moto X. Here is a 3rd-party list of NFC-enabled phones.

You must log into Pay with Radpad from an Android device or use the RadPad app, and then pay using Android Pay.

radpadand1

If you have a compatible phone, this promo seems like an easy way to rack up some extra frequent flier miles or satisfy a bonus requirement. You can schedule payments ahead of time if you wish. The standard fee is otherwise 3.49% for credit cards and free for debit cards. (You can now search for an apartment, sign your lease using Docusign, and pay rent using your debit card for free, all through Radpad.)

New Fidelity Rewards Visa Credit Card Review: 2% Flat Cash Back

new_usbank_fido_visa_200Updated with new info for both new and existing customers. Fidelity has (mostly) converted their rewards credit card line-up to a single version – a Visa Signature issued by Elan Financial Services (subsidiary of US Bank). For new customers, the new Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card will receive a flat 2% cash back when directed to an eligible Fidelity Investments account. Here is a different link which includes a $100 bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days. Here are the new card highlights:

  • Unlimited 2% cash back, when redeemed into an eligible Fidelity account.
  • No annual fee.
  • Visa Signature benefits, like Concierge service.
  • Chip-enabled and works with Apple, Android, and Samsung Pay.

Eligible Fidelity accounts. The 2% rewards value applies only to points redeemed for a deposit into the following active Fidelity accounts:

  • Fidelity Cash Management Account
  • Fidelity Brokerage account
  • Fidelity-managed 529 account
  • Fidelity Retirement account (IRA, Roth IRA, SEP-IRA, Rollover IRA)

Rewards value will be less than 2% cash back if you choose to redeem your points for other rewards such as travel options, merchandise, gift cards, and/or a statement credit.

Points redemption details. You can either choose automatic or manual redemption. With automatic redemption, once you reach $50 of rewards (5,000 points from net spending of $2,500), your balance will be automatically swept into your designated Fidelity account (or split between multiple Fidelity accounts if you wish). You can also redeem your points “on demand” either by calling in or online after you reach the same 5,000 point minimum balance.

Previous FIA Cardservices customers. You should have received your new Elan-issued cards by now, and been told what the new rewards structure is. There is no new credit check. Your credit card number will be different, but the credit card history (like age of account) should continue as before on your credit reports. Your existing rewards balance will be moved over. Re-enroll your card for online account management at FidelityRewards.com. Re-enroll your cards for rewards redemption after logging into your account at Fidelity.com / Credit Card Snapshot / Manage Rewards Points. You will need your Fidelity account numbers.

There was (understandably) some angry existing customers when they were told they would only start at 1.5% cash back and not the 2% cash back offered to new customers. Some reps told existing customers that they would have apply for a new card in order to get the 2%. However, it appears that Fidelity has softened that decision. If you call up the number on the back of your card and ask them, they should upgrade you to 2% cash back without hassle. But it won’t happen automatically; you must call.

Commentary. Overall, this move makes complete business sense. They negotiated terms that could offer a Visa card with 2% cash back without any tiers. Fidelity uses this card to encourage customers to keep all their assets within Fidelity-branded accounts. You could theoretically now have your checking account, credit card, brokerage account, IRA, 401(k), all with Fidelity.

Their previous issuer, FIA Cardservices was owned by Bank of America, which is essentially a direct competitor. You could also have a Bank of America checking account, BofA credit card, Merrill Edge brokerage account, and Merrill Lynch wealth management account under their umbrella. In fact, I recently opened up a Merrill Edge account and moved over $100,000 of assets and received (1) 100 free stock trades a month and (2) an effective 2.625% back towards any travel with the Bank of America Travel Rewards card (my review). I pay no annual account fees on either product.

Elan Financial Services is a subsidiary of US Bank, but they are less of a direct competitor. You won’t see “US Bank” mentioned anywhere on this card. Elan quietly co-brands with many other financial institutions (over 1,400) who want a credit card but don’t want to handle the back-end details.

Bottom line. I believe it remains a solid cash back card for existing Fidelity customers (or those willing to open a Fidelity account). As a self-directed investor, I also like to keep my options open. I have this new Fidelity card, but I don’t use it. I use the Bank of America card mentioned above because it offers higher rewards for my situation. I also have (but don’t currently use) the Citi Double Cash card (my review) because it is a similarly solid card with no annual fee (and doesn’t require any companion account).

Why do I have all three? My experience is that good credit cards may stop taking new applicants with no prior notice, but as an existing customer you can often continue to receive grandfathered benefits for a long time. I’ve had some version of this Fidelity co-branded card earning 2% cash back since 2004. They also all have no annual fee.

Citi Prestige Card Review: New 40,000 Point Offer, Feature Changes

Citi ThankYou Prestige Card Art

Our partner Citi has relaunched the Citi Prestige® Card, their premium ThankYou point rewards card. The sign-up bonus is now 40,000 bonus points after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. Here are the updated highlights:

  • $250 Air Travel Credit each year
  • Receive a statement credit, up to $100 every 5 years, as reimbursement for your application fee for Global Entry or TSA Pre ?®
  • 4th night hotel benefit for any hotel stay at hotels booked through the Citi Prestige® Concierge.
  • Earn 40,000 bonus points after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • Points are redeemable for a $532 flight on any airline or $400 in gift cards.
  • Transfer points to a variety of travel loyalty programs from airlines to hotels.
  • 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.
  • $450 annual fee, not waived the first year.

What’s different than before? While many features remain, there are a few notable changes from the previous offer.

  • The sign-up bonus was previously 50,000 bonus points after $3,000 in purchases.
  • Citi and American Airlines connection appears to be going away over time. For example, the application does not mention the previous ability to redeem at 1 ThankYou point = 1.6 cents in American Airlines airfare. There is now only the claim that you can redeem 1 ThankYou point = 1.33 cents in airfare from any airline. Thus, 40k ThankYou points are redeemable for a $532 flight on any airline or $400 in gift cards.
  • Existing Citi Prestige cardholders have been told that the ability to obtain complimentary access to American Airlines Admirals Club lounges will be ending July 23, 2017. Free access to the Priority Pass Select program and its affiliated airport lounges will remain.

What’s the same as before?

  • $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. Specifically, “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.”
  • Citi ThankYou points also transfer directly 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.
  • $100 Global Entry application fee credit details. 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. Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck as well. The $100 application fee credit will reset once every 5 years.

My personal bottom line. As an existing cardholder, there is no doubt the card has lost some important features. I’ve gotten my $100 Global Entry credit and $250 annual airfare credits without issue. But my most often-used feature, the Admiral Club lounge access will last until July 2017 but will disappear after that. Unless the annual fee drops significantly, that single change will probably make it not worth paying for another annual fee.

Overall bottom line: This card still offers a pretty good package during the first year of cardownership. Assuming you fly enough on any airline to make the airfare purchases, you can redeem the $250 annual airfare credit in both later 2016 and again in early 2017, for a total of $500 statement credit. (The $250 annual credit resets every December billing statement.) Then you have the $532 in airfare redemption value from the 40,000 ThankYou points, good on any airline. That’s $1,032 of flexible value, minus the annual fee of $450, for $582 minimum net value in the first year. Then you add in whatever value you place on the other perks like $100 Global Entry fee reimbursement, 3/2/1 rewards tiers, and the 4th night free benefit.

In addition, if you have a big stash of Citi ThankYou points, getting this card could increase the value of your existing point balance due to the special 1.33 cents per ThankYou point conversion rate towards airfare.

“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.”

Ally CashBack Credit Card Review: 2% Cash Back on Gas and Groceries + 10% Relationship Bonus

allycbccIf you have an Ally Bank savings or checking account, you’ve likely been pitched their new Ally CashBack credit card recently. Here are the highlights:

  • $100 bonus when you make $500 in eligible purchases during the first 3 billing cycles.
  • 2% cash back at gas stations and grocery stores
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • No limits on rewards categories.
  • 10% boost on earned rewards when you deposited into an eligible Ally Bank account.
  • No annual fee.
  • Intro 0% APR for 12 billing cycles on balance transfers. (No 0% APR on purchases.) Balance transfer fee is either $10 or 4%, whichever is greater.

As with all the big banks, Ally is working on their cross-marketing. They want you to keep your checking, savings, IRAs, brokerage, and credit cards all at the same place. Ally’s strong in the online banking side (named best online bank by Money Magazine for the fifth year in a row). Credit cards are here, and a brokerage arm is just around the corner (TradeKing). I am personally interested in such convenience, as for years Ally Bank has been my primary checking, savings, and CD accounts.

Including the 10% relationship bonus, this Visa Signature card would get you 2.2% cash back on gas stations and grocery stores and then 1.1% on all other purchases. While this structure is better than the traditional 1% flat credit cards, the competition has heated up in the last few years. Consider:

The best program to compare against is Bank of America. The BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card offers 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and now at wholesale clubs, and 3% on gas up to the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter. Bank of America also offers a 10% bonus on rewards earned when you redeem your cash back into a Bank of America checking or savings account. However, they also have premium relationship tiers that offer up to a 75% bonus on rewards that would work out to 1.75% cash back on every purchase, 3.5% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 5.25% on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter. To me, this made it worth it to build up a “relationship” with them, including opening up a new brokerage account and new credit cards.

Ally touts this new card as “simple”, but what would have really been simple is a flat 2% cash back card on everything and then a small relationship bonus on top of that. That way, when taken together with an Ally Bank account, the card would have been the best in many respects. Combined with their high-interest deposit accounts, you’d have a combo that could shake up the industry. The weakest point of my Bank of America combo is their piddly 0.05% APY on savings accounts and sad CD rates, whereas one of the strongest points of Ally is the 1.00% APY of their savings account and highly-competitive CD rates.

Bottom line. The rewards are above-average overall, and might be worth a look for Ally-centric customers. However, there are top cards in the marketplace that offer close to a flat 2% on everything, and better gas and grocery-specific cards as well. I personally prefer to pick things à la carte unless the sum is greater than the parts, as is the current situation with Bank of America.

Chase Freedom 10% Back on Hotels and Car Rentals via Ultimate Rewards

The Chase Freedom credit card has a new special promotion offering 10% cash back on up to $2,500 in combined hotel and car rental purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards in July. Details:

  • The purchases must be made July 1–31, 2016.
  • Your actual travel dates can be any time.
  • Applies only to hotels and car rentals booked through ChaseUltimateRewards.com.

In general, ChaseUltimateRewards.com offers prices that are comparable to Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, etc. Hotel prices do vary more than airfare, so I would still comparison shop side-by-side. Note that their hotel room quotes include taxes, which some other sites (like Expedia) add in very late in the checkout process. Also, I found how they listed rooms by TripAdvisor rating to be interesting.

This is addition to the quarterly 5% cash back category, which currently includes Restaurants and Wholesale Clubs (Costco, Sam’s Club, BJ’s).

FreeCreditScore.com Review: Free Experian FICO Score, Credit Report, and Credit Monitoring

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The URL is suspiciously generic and raised my scam radar, but Experian-owned FreeCreditScore.com has been revamped to offer a pretty good package – a free FICO score, full credit report, and free credit monitoring based on your Experian credit report data. (Continue to be wary of other less-credible sites.) Like most of its competitors, “free” means that you agree to let them market products to you based on your personal information. This post provides additional details regarding this service.

FICO Score details.

  • FICO Score version: 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: Every 30 days or when you log in, whichever is longer.
  • Limitations: Available to everyone. No specific credit card required.

How to get your score. Here’s a preview of the application and approval process:

  1. You must provide personal information, including Social Security Number. Name, address, etc. This is required for any service that checks your credit score.
  2. You must agree to their Privacy Policy and Ad Targeting Policy. Basically, they will give your free access to your credit score and other credit information, and they will also collect personal information to market products and other services to you. Your information may also be shared with their affiliates.
  3. Identity verification questions. They will ask you some multiple choice questions based on your Experian credit report data in order to verify your identity. If you don’t pass this quiz, I would go over to AnnualCreditReport.com and get a copy of your report to scan for errors.
  4. Set your personal security questions. At this point, you are approved. You just need to set up the standard security questions like “Who was your 2nd grade teacher?”

What kind of information do you get? The score model is FICO Score 8, based on your Experian credit report. This is the same score model and credit bureau offered by American Express and CreditScoreCard by Discover, and is within a few points for me (the check dates are slightly off). The other two major bureaus are TransUnion and Equifax.

The major difference is that FreeCreditScore.com offers your full Experian credit report and ongoing credit monitoring of your Experian credit data. This includes any new credit inquiries, new accounts, pubic records, fraud alerts, and other personal information updates to your Experian credit report.

How often is it updated? As often as every 30 days, but only if you log in to the website. Many sites operate this way, as it reduces their costs of grabbing your score if you are no longer interested. Also, they want you to log in so that they can show you advertisements.

Screenshots. Here’s a look at my sign-up process and account page:

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Bottom line. Experian owns FreeCreditScore.com and has jumped in fully into the “free score for showing you ads” business model. As they aren’t a credit card issuer, they can feel free to open it up to everyone. They offer the full Experian package of free FICO score, full credit report, and free credit monitoring based on your Experian credit report data. Most other Experian-based providers only offer one out of these three.

There are a lot of options out there now, but if you wanted to cover the other two bureaus efficiently, consider that CreditKarma.com offers free weekly updates of both your TransUnion and Equifax credit report factors in one site. You also get free weekly non-FICO credit scores and free automatic, daily TransUnion credit monitoring.

Related: Here are major credit card issuers with free FICO programs:

BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card Review: $100 Bonus, Preferred Rewards Bonus

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Updated. As of June 1st, 2016, the 2% cash back includes both grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to 3.5% with Platinum Honors Preferred Rewards), with the spending cap raised to $2,500 in combined gas, grocery, and wholesale club purchases per quarter. This is a permanent (non-rotating) category addition that includes Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJs wholesale clubs.

The BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card is the mainstream “cash back rewards” credit card branded by Bank of America. In this review, I’ll cover the basic card features but also focus on a lesser-known opportunity – if you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% – 75%. For such “relationship” customers, the bonus can change this card from good to great. Read on for details.

Here are the highlights of this card:

  • No annual fee.
  • $100 online cash rewards bonus after you spend at least $500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
  • Earn 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and now at wholesale clubs, and 3% on gas up to the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter.
  • No changing categories and no expiration on rewards
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases AND for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then, 13.24% – 23.24% Variable APR. 3% fee (min $10) applies to balance transfers.
  • Get a 10% customer bonus every time you redeem your cash back into a Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25%-75%. Click “Apply Now” to learn more about Preferred Rewards.

The Preferred Rewards program is designed to rewards clients with multiple account and higher assets located at Bank of America banking, Merrill Edge® online brokerage, and Merrill Lynch® investment accounts. Here is a partial table taken from their comparison chart (click to enlarge):

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Let’s consider the options. Bank of America’s interest rates on cash accounts tend to be lower than highest-available outside banks, so moving cash over to qualify may reduce your interest earnings. Merrill Lynch advisory accounts also usually come with management fees. However, if you have brokerage assets like mutual funds and ETFs, moving them over to Merrill Edge may actually reduce your costs because at the Platinum and Platinum Plus levels they will actually give you 30 to 100 free online stock trades every month.

I recently moved a little over $100k of brokerage assets (Vanguard funds) over to Merrill Edge to qualify for Platinum Honors. I realize not everyone will have this level of assets to move around, but if you do then it is worth considering. Also, I later realized that it will take a while for my “3-month average combined balance” to actually reach the $100k level and officially qualify for Platinum Honors. After that the 25% – 75% rewards bonus on credit card rewards kick in.

Cash Back Rewards Tiers for Preferred Rewards

Recall that the basic structure is “1/2/3”; you get 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 3% on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter (1/2/3). Here’s how the bonuses work out:

  • Platinum Honors 1.75/3.5/5.25: 1.75% cash back on every purchase, 3.5% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 5.25% on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter.
  • Platinum 1.5/3/4.5: 1.5% cash back on every purchase, 3% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 4.5% on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter.
  • Gold 1.25/2.5/3.75: 1.25% cash back on every purchase, 2.5% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 3.75% on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter.

Note that the terms state “The Preferred Rewards bonus will replace the customer bonus you may already receive with the card.”, which I interpret to mean that you will lose the 10% bonus for redeeming your cash back into a Bank of America® checking or savings account.

Well, I wish my cable company would offer such nice “bundling” incentives, as now Bank of America has managed to convince me to go from only having a checking account with them to now also having a Merrill Edge brokerage account with 100 free trades per month and a new Bank of America credit card.

(Side note: Stack this offer with the separate Merrill Edge brokerage sign-up bonus.)

Not all Bank of America consumer credit cards qualify for Preferred Rewards. Another card that does qualify is the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card. I initially picked the BankAmericard Travel Rewards credit card myself, but will probably add this card now for the potential to get 3.5% cash back on all my Costco wholesale club purchases. Also, this card gives you cash while the Travel Rewards card rewards must be redeemed against travel purchases.

“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.”

New Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi Review

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Updated June 2016; Now open to new applicants. Citi and Costco have released the details of their new co-branded credit cards, the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi and the Costco Anywhere Visa® Business Card by Citi. Here’s a quick overview of the details for each card.

Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi highlights: (For Personal Use)

  • 4% cash back on eligible gas worldwide, including gas at Costco, for the first $7,000 per year and then 1% thereafter. You will not get 4% cash back for gas purchased at superstores, supermarkets, convenience stores and warehouse clubs other than Costco.
  • 3% cash back on restaurant and eligible travel purchases worldwide
  • 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Worldwide Car Rental Insurance and Worldwide Travel Accident Insurance.
  • Damage & Theft Purchase Protection is included, which may cover you for repairs or refunds for items you purchased with your Costco Anywhere Card that are damaged or stolen within 120 days of purchase (90 days for New York residents).
  • No annual fee (with paid Costco membership).
  • Will also serve as your Costco membership card.

Costco Anywhere Visa® Business Card by Citi highlights:

  • 4% cash back on eligible gas worldwide, including gas at Costco, for the first $7,000 per year and then 1% thereafter. You will not get 4% cash back for gas purchased at superstores, supermarkets, convenience stores and warehouse clubs other than Costco.
  • 3% cash back on restaurant and eligible travel purchases worldwide
  • 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Worldwide Car Rental Insurance and Worldwide Travel Accident Insurance.
  • Damage & Theft Purchase Protection is included, which may cover you for repairs or refunds for items you purchased with your Costco Anywhere Card that are damaged or stolen within 120 days of purchase (90 days for New York residents).
  • No annual fee (with paid Costco membership).
  • Will also serve as your Costco membership card.
  • Visa SavingsEdge eligibility. Receive automatic savings after enrollment on qualifying purchases at participating merchants.

Had the Costco American Express? You did not need to apply for a new card. You should have already received the new card in the mail to your registered address. After June 20, 2016, you can start using it. At that time, any cash rewards and/or debt balance will be transferred over to the new card, and your Costco American Express will be closed automatically. You should not have closed your Costco American Express on your own, or you wouldn’t have received the benefits of this automatic transfer.

The rewards will accrue in the form of “Costco Cash Rewards”. This means you’ll get a paper coupon snail-mailed to you once every year in February based on your previous year’s spending, which you can either (1) use as payment for goods directly at the Costco cash register or (2) convert to cash or check at a Costco customer service desk. You may also do a partial redemption at a cash register and they’ll give you the remaining balance in cash. Coupon must be redeemed in person on or prior to its expiration date of December 31 in the year in which it is issued.

Commentary. Here is an overview of the competition:

  • The new Fidelity Rewards Credit Card is another Visa card that should get you 2% back on your Costco purchases.
  • The Citi Double Cash Card exists both a Visa and Mastercard, but reports are you cannot switch to a Visa if you have a Mastercard.
  • The BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card is a Visa and has the potential to earn you up to 2.625% back at Costco in the form of statement credits towards travel (see review; additional requirements apply).
  • The BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card is a Visa and has the potential to earn you at least 2% and up to 3.5% cash back at Costco on up to $2,500 in purchases per quarter (see review; additional requirements apply).
  • Through the end of 2016, the Chase Freedom Card will earn you 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter. You can even stock up on Costco gift cards bought at Costco.com if you want to max out this limited-time promotion.

This card maintains the overall simplicity of the old consumer card, while slightly improving the rewards percentages. The bonus category percentages went up (new Visa is 4/3/1, old AmEx was 3/2/1). The improved 2% cash back at Costco and Costco.com (formerly only 1%) is significant, as it means that you finally won’t be as tempted to use a non-Costco-branded card at Costco! I was hoping for 5% back on gas to match the Sam’s Club card, but I suppose we’ll have to settle for 4%. I would also note that both the personal and business cards now have the same rewards percentages.