Plastiq: Pay Tuition, Rent, or Taxes With Credit Card at 1.5% Fee, Debit Card at 0% Fee

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Updated, new promotion. Plastiq.com lets you pay bills and invoices with a credit or debit card, even if they don’t usually accept them. The standard service fee is 2.5% for credit cards and 0% for Visa and MasterCard debit cards. However, they run limited-time promotion with lower fees. They will charge your card and send out a paper check to the payee (direct bank transfers to a few), so you’d want to plan ahead for any snail mail delays. They recommend 10 business days to be safe. More ideas from their site:

  • Rent or Mortgage
  • Homeowners Association (HOA) dues
  • Tuition
  • Childcare costs
  • Buying a car, RV, or ATV
  • Income or business taxes

Current promotion runs until November 30th, 2015 and lets you make payments with a 1.5% fee for one-time, immediate MasterCard payments.. Here is their blog announcement. No minimum amount required. Does not apply to recurring payments. No special promotional code or sign up required.

Selected fine print:

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, but why wait until then to show how thankful we are that you’ve signed up with Plastiq? To make the holiday even sweeter, we’re excited to share that today is the start of a special promotion. Get a 1.5% rate for all one-time, immediate MasterCard payments to any business! […] This promotion will expire on November 30, 2015 at 5 p.m. PT.

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Why would I want to pay a 1.5% service fee?

Sign-up bonus spending requirements. Sign-up bonuses often having spending requirements. For example, you might get a $500 value bonus but need to spend $5,000. Well, that’s effectively 10% back so if you need a little help to get over that hurdle, it’s okay to pay a 1.5% fee. Here are some recent cards with big $500 value bonuses but also spending requirements:

2% cash back credit cards, or similar. If you have a rewards credit card that offers 2% cash back (or equivalent value in points), then you can still make a slight profit by putting them on your credit card. A current example is the Citi Double Cash Card. For example, if you have a tuition bill or tax bill of $5,000 and you earned 2% cash back while paying a 1.5% fee, your net 0.5% is $50.

Combine a rewards card + 0% APR on purchases. Many credit cards offer 0% APR on purchases for an introductory period of 12 months or longer. If the card also has a half-decent rewards program on purchases, the combination of purchase rewards and spreading out the payments over a year at no interest could be attractive.

Another play on this is to take advantage of the 0% fee on debit card payments. The PayPal Business Debit card account gives you 1% cash back on online “signature” purchases. If that is how it is processed, you can net 1% and the money is drawn from your bank account. For existing cardholders after 2/1/16 and all new cardholders, PayPal will not pay cash back on “PIN-less debit” transactions. This is a fine distinction, but if that is how the transaction is processed, then you won’t get the 1% cash back.

BankAmericard® Credit Card Review

bofa_191Bank of America is the issuer behind many different credit cards, but only a few of them carry the “BankAmericard” co-branding. I have written up reviews of the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card and the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card, but this brief review is specifically to cover the “classic” BankAmericard® Credit Card.

Rewards programs. The BankAmericard® Credit Card does not come with a rewards program. There is no cash back, there is no points system.

There is no annual fee. The card also comes with chip technology for security and ease of use internationally.

  • 0% Introductory APR for 18 billing cycles for balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then 11.24% – 21.24% Variable APR.
  • Balance transfer fee of either 3% of the amount of the transfer or $10 (whichever is greater) applies
  • No annual fee
  • The perfect card for those seeking a simple yet convenient-to-use credit card
  • Zero liability fraud protection, so you’re not responsible for any fraudulent charges made on your account

Be careful with the naming structures when picking amongst cards. The BankAmericard® Credit Card is best if you are looking for the longest 0% APR period. Otherwise, if you are primarily interested in rewards cards then I would look at the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ and the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit cards instead.

“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.”

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

bofa_cashrewards191The 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 3% on gas up to the first $1,500 in combined grocery/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. Only after that will 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 3% on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery/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 5.25% on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery/gas purchases each quarter.
  • Platinum 1.5/3/4.5: 1.5% cash back on every purchase, 3% at grocery stores and 4.5% on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery/gas purchases each quarter.
  • Gold 1.25/2.5/3.75: 1.25% cash back on every purchase, 2.5% at grocery stores and 3.75% on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery/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 (see review). I actually picked the BankAmericard Travel Rewards credit card myself, but for other folks the grocery and gas bonuses specifically available on this card may produce higher rewards. Also, this cards 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.”

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card Review: Great with Preferred Rewards Bonus

bofa_travelrewards191The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card is the main “travel rewards” credit card branded by Bank of America. In this review, I’ll cover the 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:

  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don’t expire
  • 20,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days –  that can be a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want – you’re not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees
  • Now with chip technology for enhanced security and protection at chip-enabled terminals
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases, then 15.24% – 23.24% Variable APR
  • Get an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% or more.  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:

bofa_pref1

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 did a partial transfer of a little over $100k of brokerage assets (Vanguard funds) over to Merrill Edge to qualify for Platinum Honors. I should mention it may take a while for your “3-month average combined balance” to actually reach the $100k level and officially qualify for Platinum Honors. Only after that will the 75% rewards bonus on credit card rewards kick in.

(Side note: Stack this offer with their Merrill Edge brokerage sign-up bonus. Moving over $100k will get you $500 if you respond by 12/15/15.)

Cash Back Rewards Tiers for Preferred Rewards

This card has a relatively simple rewards structure; you earn 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases. 1 point = 1 cent statement credit against any travel purchase made on the card (flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees). As long you as you travel at least occasionally, I feel it is okay to value them at 1 cent per point, which means you could call this a “1.5% back on all purchases, if applied towards travel purchases” rewards card. Here’s how the bonuses then work out:

  • Platinum Honors: 2.625% back, if applied towards travel, or 2.625 points per dollar spent on any purchase (75% bonus).
  • Platinum: 2.25% back, if applied towards travel, or 2.25 points per dollar spent on any purchase (50% bonus).
  • Gold: 1.875% back, if applied towards travel, or 1.875 points per dollar spent on any purchase (25% bonus).

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 think their plan is working because 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 and a Bank of America credit card. I definitely realize not everyone will have this level of assets to move around, and so this is somewhat a restricted offer. But if you do then it is worth considering. Both Platinum and Platinum Honors levels allow you to reach tiers that effectively give you over 2% back on all purchases, with the important caveat that your rewards must offset previous travel purchases on the card.

Not all Bank of America consumer credit cards qualify for Preferred Rewards. Another card that does qualify is the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card. I picked this BankAmericard Travel Rewards credit card myself, but for other folks the grocery and gas bonuses specifically available on the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card might give you higher rewards.

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

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

Chase Ink Plus Card Art

One of Chase’s small biz credit cards 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. See terms for pricing details.

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

Ultimate Rewards points are very flexible:

  • Cash. 1 point = 1 cent in cash, so 60,000 points = $600 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 60,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 5X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 2X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Chip-enabled for enhanced security at home and abroad when used at a chip card reader
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • $95 Annual Fee

Based on past experiences, you should be able to get this card and bonus in addition to the Ink Cash card as they are different cards. I already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred personal 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.”

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
  • 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
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • 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.”

British Airways Credit Card Review – Total of 100,000 Bonus Avios!

British Airways Visa Signature Card

Updated: Version of 100k offer is back. Here’s an offer that we took advantage of previously for multiple free flights both within the US or internationally. The British Airways Visa Signature® Card is offering 50,000 bonus Avios after you make $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.  An additional 50,000 bonus Avios can be hitting the following purchase plateaus in the first 12 months:

  • 25,000 bonus Avios after spending an additional $10,000 in your first year (total of 75k miles)
  • Another 25,000 bonus Avios after spending an additional $10,000 in your first year (total of 100k total bonus Avios after $20,000 spent in year 1)
  • This bonus offer is available to you as long as you have not received a new cardmember bonus for this product in the past 24 months.
  • $95 annual fee.

In addition to the bonus Avios, you will also get 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases. Another perk is no foreign transaction fees, handy when traveling and saving you up to 3% off everything compared to cards that have the fee. Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa Card, you’ll earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years. Smart Chip Technology allows you to use your card for chip based purchases in Europe and beyond.

The Avios reward chart is now based on how far you want to travel in terms of miles. So what can you do with all those points?

Redeem awards domestically on partner American Airlines. Within the US, it’s usually easiest to find flights on partner American Airlines. There are no fuel surcharges when booking with American. Seating availability will be limited, but if you are flexible there is decent inventory.

  • Los Angeles to Honolulu, Hawaii using only 25,000 Avios points roundtrip. I ran a quote in Fall and it cost $659 broken down to $621 fare and only $38 in taxes. So in this case you could save $621 in exchange for 25,000 points, which is 2.5 cents per point. You can also do JFK to LAX for 25k points roundtrip.
  • Shorter-distance flights can be a good deal as well. Round Trip from Chicago to New York City is only 15,000 Avios points + about $30 in taxes. Charlotte, NC to New York City is only 9,000 Avios roundtrip. Los Angeles to Las Vegas is also 9,000 Avios roundtrip. Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon is 15,000 Avios roundtrip.

More details below:

Finding partner awards on BA.com is better than is was in the past, so try it first. Type in your to/from cities within the US, choose to book flights with Avios points, and then click to include partners:

If you have the flexibility, you can also search for additional dates for more available seats. Here’s a trip I found for a short flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Los Angeles (LAX) for just 9,000 miles + $5. So with 50,000 bonus miles, you could take 5 of these flights and have points left over!

You may find more space going business class in the US. If you’re travelling on set dates, you may want to look for business class tickets instead. Why use 50,000 miles on some “anytime” Economy ticket when you could flight in business class comfort? Here’s a cross-country business class trip I found from San Francisco (SFO) to New York (JFK) for 50,000 miles + $5.

Use the American Airlines AA.com website and look for “MileSAAver” awards. Record the exact flight dates and numbers, and then call at British Airways at 1-800-452-1201 to book them. If you can’t find the same flight on BA.com, they should waive the phone book fee (they did for me). Don’t be discouraged if you have to use this method, especially if you aren’t flying nonstop. Also, call back and talk with a different agent if they aren’t helpful initially.

Redeem Avios points for business class to South America. There are also no fuel surcharges with booking on LAN Airlines. You can get New York to Buenos Aires, Argentina for 50k Avios roundtrip.

Redeem Avios points for business class to Europe. Since business class is so expensive, but the flight across the Atlantic is so long, redeeming points for business class tickets can be a good value as well, but there are big fuel surcharges. But if you really want to go this route as we did, they are a much smaller proportion and your trip will be so much more comfortable and truly an experience.

A roundtrip business class flight quote from New York City to London was $3,640, with $2,540 in fare and $1,100 in taxes. I could book the same award ticket for 80,000 Avios points plus $1,100 in taxes. Now we’re talking 3.2 cents per point.

Therefore I figured, why not use this card as an excuse to go to Europe in style, because I would never have done so otherwise. When booking my trip, I ended up calling in and getting a really nice customer service rep that used her tricks to nab me a combination of American and British Airways flights from my city to both London and Rome and back, all for under 100,000 miles. The flight was a first-time experience for me… priority check-in and boarding, first class lounges with showers and buffets, multi-course inflight meals, actually sleeping on seats that were fully flat, etc.

How not to use your miles. Don’t use Avios for a economy class transatlantic flight from USA to Europe, because you’ll still be subject to taxes and fees on award redemptions, which are often half the entire cost of the ticket. I ran a quick search for a random New York City (JFK) to London (LHR) flight that cost $1,050, the taxes and fees alone were $650. You can get the $400 “fare” for 40,000 Avios points, but that’s only 1 cent a point value.

Finally, you can also use partner airlines such as LAN Airlines or Cathay Pacific to get from the US to both Asia and South America on business class for 100,000 Avios or less.

Finally, if you can manage to spend $30,000 a year on the card, you can even earn a 2-for-1 Travel Together Ticket good for two years when you redeem for a flight on British Airways. With the Travel Together Ticket, you can bring a companion on your next reward flight without using any additional Avios points. Fees and taxes do still apply, but the voucher is valid to any destination and includes first/business class. Another family tip is that you are allowed to pool miles between multiple people in a “household account” to make redemptions easier. So you, your spouse/partner, and other relatives can share points.

To get the max bonus requires a decent amount of spending, but the value is so high that it may be worth the effort. This was actually done x2 for Mrs. MMB and we traveled together. We householded accounts and that way I could redeem flights for both of us. It worked well because we could all book tickets together on the same flight all at once.

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

Citi Thank You Points Now Transfer to Virgin America + Limited-Time 25% Bonus

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Citi has gradually been improving the flexibility of their ThankYou (TY) Points rewards program. In the last couple years, they have added several internationally-based airline partners on a 1:1 basis including Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Etihad, Flying Blue by Air France and KLM, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways. Today, Citi announced that eligible cardholders can now transfer their ThankYou Points to US-based Virgin America Elevate® points. The list is currently restricted to “premium” cards including the Citi ThankYou Premier® Card and Citi Prestige® Card. (As long as you have one of these cards, you can transfer in ThankYou points earned from other cards.)

What are Virgin American Elevate points worth? To keep things simple, the overall best redemption option is for US flights on Virgin America. (There are other partner airlines available, but that gets more complicated.) Here is Virgin America’s US route map [pdf], which includes New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cancun, and soon Hawaii.

Assuming you are interested in one of their routes, Elevate points are pretty easy to use. There are no blackout dates or capacity restrictions, so you can redeem points for any domestic Virgin America flight. The amounts of points for a reward flight is vary with the cash cost of the ticket (before taxes and fees). As long as you have an Elevate account, you can poke around and get an idea of the ratio. For the flights I looked at, it varied from 1.6 to 2.6 cents per Elevate point.

Here’s an example San Francisco to Honolulu flight at 2 cents per point for Main Cabin:

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Here’s an example Austin to Los Angeles flight at 2.6 cents per point for Main Cabin:

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Transfer ratio and value details. ThankYou points will transfer to Virgin America Elevate® points at a 2:1 ratio, with a 1,000 points minimum. In other words, the minimum transfer would be from 1,000 ThankYou points to 500 Virgin America Elevate points. At this standard redemption ratio of 2:1, that gives you a value of 0.8 to 1.3 cents per Citi ThankYou point using this transfer option.

Limited-time 25% transfer bonus. If you make such a transfer by 10/21/15 (11:59 p.m. ET), you will get a 25% bonus on your Elevate points. During this promo, every 1,000 Thank You points = 625 Virgin America Elevate points. At this promotional redemption ratio of 2:1.25, that gives you a value of 1 to 1.6 cents per Citi ThankYou point using this transfer option.

Better to book through ThankYou Travel Center? The problem is that the transfer are only limited to the premium cards, which already have a pretty good redemption option via the Travel Center, which is a aggregation site like Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz that sells flights, hotel stays, car rentals, and cruises at similar prices.

  • The Citi ThankYou Premier® Card offers 1 ThankYou point = 1.25 cents toward any travel booked through Citi ThankYou Travel Center. You also still get to earn elite qualifying miles on your redeemed flights.
  • The Citi Prestige® Card offers 1 ThankYou point = 1.33 cents toward any travel booked through Citi ThankYou Travel Center. You still get to earn elite qualifying miles on your redeemed flights. In addition, you get 1.6 cents per points when redeemed towards American Airlines or US Airways flights. You also still get to earn elite qualifying miles on your redeemed flights.

I am interested in this development because I am currently in my first year of owning the Citi Prestige card and have already earned a 50,000 Thank You point bonus and want to spend them. For me, the two best redemption options value-wise are now on specific Virgin America flights depending on the point/price ratio and all American Airlines flights where I can get close to 1.6 cents per point value. The added flight choices make it easier to find a redemption overall.

I’ve never flown on Virgin America myself, but I wouldn’t mind trying them out as they seem to be at the top of many “best US airlines” lists for customer service and flying experience. (Not that the competition is all that great.)

American Express Gift Card Class Action Settlement

amexgcpicI’ve written about American Express gift cards several times in the past, mostly when they had a promotion waiving both their purchase fees and shipping fees. In such cases, they were a cheap and efficient way to “time-shift” your purchases if you needed to meet a spending threshold soon to obtain a sign-up bonus, or if you needed some miles sooner for a reward.

American Express recently agreed to a class action settlement regarding these gift cards. Per the official settlement website, here is a summary:

The lawsuit claimed that American Express did not fully disclose all gift card contract terms, and misrepresented the value of the cards. The gift cards were subject to various fees, such as monthly fees and check issuance fees, resulting from trying to make transactions using multiple forms of payment. American Express denies that it did anything wrong, and the Court did not decide which side was right.

The dates for this settlement have been in flux, but the current deadline for claim submission is November 16, 2015. You can also exclude yourself from the settlement by this date. There is a scheduled court hearing on January 22, 2016 to consider final approval of the settlement.

You are a Class Member if you purchased, received, held or used a gift card issued by American Express from January 1, 2002 through September 21, 2011. Any gift card with an American Express logo counts. If you bought a card and gave it to someone else as a gift, you cannot get a payment for that card. The gift receiver should make a claim.

  • Depending your specific claim details, if you have a record of your gift card number the settlement offers from $5 to $20 per gift card ($40 per Class Member max, total) from a total fund of about $6.75 million.
  • If you don’t have a record of your gift cards and American Express can’t find your records based on your personal information, your max total is $5.
  • You can also request to buy a $100 AmEx Gift Card without paying the purchase fee or the shipping/handling fee.

Each Class Member who unsuccessfully tried a split-tender transaction can get up to $20. Those who incurred monthly fees can get up to $8. Those who paid a check issuance fee can get up to $5. A Class Member can claim one or all of these amounts, but no Class Member may get more than $20 per gift card or $40 total. Class Members who held an American Express Card and unsuccessfully tried a split-tender transaction and as a result incurred either a monthly fee or a check issuance fee, and who do not know their American Express gift card number, can get a total of $5. If these claims total more than $1,000,000, the $5 payments will be reduced.

Anyone, even if not a Class Member, can cash out any AmEx gift card with a balance of $25 or less. Fill out a claim form, provide your e-mail, and if the settlement is approved they will send you claim instructions. They will refund your unused balance at no cost. Useful if you don’t want to use the Amazon gift card trick (or have less than 50 cents on it).

If you’re the type of person that keeps detailed records or all your old cards in a drawer, you may be eligible for the max $40 benefit per Class Member. Otherwise, anyone can ask to cash out their small balances. You must fill out one claim form for each gift card and submit it no later than midnight November 16, 2015.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card Review: 25,000 Point Promo

swa_200Southwest currently has a 25,000 point promo for the Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. Card applicants* can get 25,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account. You can redeem 25,000 points directly for airfare with unlimited rewards seats and no blackout dates, or also for $250 in Amazon.com gift cards. Here are the highlights:

  • Earn 25,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • Named 2015 Freddie Award Winner for Best Loyalty Credit Card
  • NEW – Chip-enabled cards with 24/7 fraud monitoring
  • Points Don’t Expire, No Blackout Dates, Bags Fly Free®
  • 2 points/$1 spent on Southwest Airlines® purchases and participating Hotel and Car Rental partners
  • 1 point/$1 spent on all other purchases
  • 6,000 points after your Cardmember Anniversary

* Had this card before? You can get the bonus again if it has been 24 months since you got your last bonus:

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.

Value of Southwest Rapid Rewards points. Before April 17th, 2015, the redemption ratio for points was set at 70 points = $1 worth of Wanna Get Away airfare, which meant you get 1.43 cents of value per point. But then they made this announcement which applies after April 15, 2015:

We created Rapid Rewards® because we think you deserve to actually feel rewarded. And, from time to time we must make some updates to our program. Beginning April 17, 2015, the number of Rapid Rewards Points needed to redeem for certain flights will vary based on destination, time, day of travel, demand, fare class, and other factors. However, there are still many flights which will stay at the current redemption rate. And don’t forget that when fares go on sale, so do the points needed for redeeming for a reward flight on those fares.

In practice, many flights are still available at around the previous 70 points = $1 worth of Wanna Get Away airfare (1.43 cents per point), but many are now either cheaper or more expensive. Based on a few searches, you can find rewards redemptions between 1.2 and 1.7 cents per point. At the lowest value, that would make 25,000 points worth $300 in Wanna Get Away airfare, broken up into however many flights you wanted. I would use this conservative value myself, even though you could potentially get more value than that.

Another lower boundary would be gift card redemptions. You can still redeem 5,000 points for a $50 a Amazon.com or Wal-Mart gift certificate. That makes 25,000 points still worth $250 in Amazon or Wal-Mart gift cards.

Companion Pass. One of the neater feature of the Rapid Rewards program is the Companion Pass.

Your spouse, your best friend, or maybe your mother. Whomever you choose, your Companion can fly with you when you have Companion Pass status. Simply fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 Qualifying Points in one calendar year.

Besides a lot of purchases on a Southwest credit card or flying on Southwest Airlines, the small business version of this card also has a 50,000 point bonus. Points earned from Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Cards count:

“Companion Pass Qualifying Points” are earned from your revenue flights booked through Southwest Airlines, your points earned on Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Cards, and your base points earned from Rapid Rewards Partners.

All those points will also be worth a good chunk of free flights for the non-Companion.

“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.”

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Discover Apple Pay 10% CashBack Bonus – Up to $2,000 Value!

Discover it 14 ImageDiscover credit cards will work with Apple Pay starting on September 16th, 2015. But the big news is that per this press release, those who pay with their Discover card using Apple Pay from 9/16 to 12/31/15 will automatically earn an extra 10% Cashback Bonus on up to $10,000 of in-store purchases. (Discover it Miles, Miles and Escape cardmembers will earn an extra 10 miles per dollar on up to $10,000 of in-store purchases.)

“We are excited for Discover cardmembers to have the ability to use Apple Pay. Rewards have always been important to our cardmembers, and we want to make sure they receive a generous offer for shopping with Discover and Apple Pay,” said Heather Roche, vice president of rewards at Discover. “We want to encourage new and existing Discover cardmembers to add their Discover card to Apple Pay with a few simple clicks using our mobile app, take advantage of this 10% Cashback Bonus, and experience the ease and convenience of using Apple Pay.”

Works with Double Cashback promotion! 10% of $10,000 of purchases is $1,000. But it gets even better for those already people signed up for Double Cashback in 2015, because Discover has confirmed multiple times via their official Twitter channel that it will double this as well! That makes it up to $2,000 in total extra bonuses, on top of the normal cash back of 5% in rotating categories and 1% on everything else (which will also be doubled at the end of the year). If you want to triple-confirm, click here and start a chat session direct with Discover.

Don’t have a Discover card yet? It’s not too late. The promo lasts until the end of 2015, so there is time to apply. New applicants of the Discover card through this referral link can get both a a $50 Cashback Bonus after you make your first purchase within 3 months and get the Double First Year Cash Back promotion. The $50 will then be doubled at the end of the year, so if you keep the card open it becomes effectively a $100 bonus. Click on the application link and then on the “See rates, rewards and other info” link and look for the following details in the fine print:

TERMS OF CASHBACK BONUS OFFER: Get a $50 Cashback Bonus after you make your first purchase within 3 months of being approved. Promotional award will be applied within 8 weeks. The promotional award is in addition to the Cashback Bonus earned on all purchases.

Double First Year Cash Back: After the first 12 consecutive billing periods that your new account is open, we will double all the cash back rewards you’ve earned and apply them to your account in the next billing cycle. You’ve earned rewards when they have posted to your account by the end of the 12th consecutive billing period. You will not receive Double Cash Back if your account is closed or no longer in the cash back reward program as of the award date. This promotional offer may not be offered in the future. This exclusive offer is available only to new cardmembers.

Additional information.

  • Here are all the physical stores where Apple Pay is accepted. It’s too long to copy-and-paste here, but notable ones include Apple Stores (how about 20% off Apple products?), Babies R Us and Toys R US (stack with their own coupons), BJ’s Warehouse, Chevron (20% off gas!), Sports Authority, Staples, Walgreens, and Whole Foods.
  • The quick and direct method on this would be to purchase gift cards in-store, as this will allow you to time-shift your purchases if you didn’t plan on spending $10,000 at those merchants otherwise.
  • According to the official Discover Twitter account, the 10% bonus will post within two statement cycles.
  • Apple Pay works in physical stores with iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch, as well as iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus when they come out. You will need to upgrade to iOS 9 (will be released 9/16) and add your Discover card to the Wallet app.
  • This promotion is so potentially valuable, people without iPhones are trying to figure out if it is worth to buy one just to get in on this promotion. You could also use it as an excuse to upgrade your older iPhone. :) I have read reports that Apple Pay does not require cellular service to work if you have WiFi available, but I haven’t yet done the research myself.

This should be quite a profitable promo, will update after I make my first few purchases. I’ve never used Apple Pay before, I should probably make a practice purchase so I don’t mess things up. 😉

Fidelity 2% Cash Back Credit Cards At Risk?

fidoamexOne of my long-time favorite credit cards is a grandfathered Fidelity College Rewards MasterCard that gives me 2% flat cash back on all purchases. I’m not sure exactly when I first applied for this card, but it was in the early 2000s. The current Fidelity line-up as of September 2015 is still pretty good (if you have a Fidelity account):

All three of these cards, including my legacy MasterCard, are issued by FIA Card Services, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bank of America.

But watch out, this Bloombers article says that Fidelity Investments is considering dropping AmEx, BofA as partners:

Fidelity Investments is considering dropping American Express Co. and Bank of America Corp. to find new partners and better terms for one of the top-rated cash-back credit cards in the U.S., according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. are in talks with Fidelity, vying to replace AmEx on a card that’s been amassing customers for more than six years, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because negotiations are private. AmEx is parting with Costco Wholesale Corp. and JetBlue Airways Corp., and losing the Fidelity deal would affect a key area of growth: facilitating transactions in which another bank is the lender.

Here’s my previous post on how Costco dropped American Express for its future co-branded credit cards.

Does dropping FIA as an issuer mean the Fidelity 2% cash back cards will also get the axe? The 2% cash back graveyard already includes Schwab, Priceline, and Sallie Mae co-branded cards. I’ve racked up thousand of dollars in 2% cash back rewards from Fidelity, which have grown even more my sitting in a tax-deferred Fido 529 account. I think this shows that the co-branding has encouraged me to keep assets with Fidelity, but if they kill the card I will probably roll my 529 funds into another plan like Utah.

Does “better terms” mean better for Fidelity’s profit margin, or better for their customers? By ending the relationship entirely, perhaps that would make it easier for Fidelity to say “sorry, we broke up, all existing cards must go”. On the other hand, maybe Fidelity has the negotiating power to get another issuer on board with 2% cash back? I really can’t see it going any higher than 2%.

If it does end, there will still be cards that can get you 2% in value, but as the article notes the only remaining 2% flat cash back card with no annual fee will be the Citi® Double Cash Card (review). I applied for this new Citi card is a back-up play, in case Citi also closes it to new customers but grandfathers existing users into the 2% cash back. After I paid my Citi bill using my bank account online twice, I can now get the full 2% cash back by requesting my rewards to be sent online back to that same bank account.