Shoprunner Membership with American Express

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Update: American Express is now offering Shoprunner if you enroll at ShopRunner.com/AmericanExpress and agree to keep your AmEx card as the default payment method for their Express Checkout feature. You can still choose to use another credit card for any specific purchase. I didn’t see this as a big deal as in May 2013 they already offered a year-long subscription for free, and who knows how long Shoprunner itself or this AmEx partnership will last.

Shoprunner is similar to Amazon Prime in that it offers unlimited free 2-day shipping with no minimum order amount from a variety of online merchants including Newegg, Babies R Us, Blue Nile, Sports Authority, Drugstore.com, and GNC. It also allows you free return shipping and the ability to ship to any address, making it handy for gifts. You can also get free delivery from Domino’s pizza.

You’ll need a consumer or business American Express card issued by an AmEx-affiliated bank (Starwood Preferred yes, Blue Cash Preferred yes, Business Gold yes, Costco yes, FIA/Fidelity no, Citibank no, prepaid versions no).

I’ve used my membership a few times to send gifts from Babies R Us, although I wouldn’t pay $79 a year for it.

CreditKarma vs. Barclaycard Free FICO Credit Score Comparison

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Since both my Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard and CreditKarma.com now both offer free credit scores based on my TransUnion credit report, I thought it would be interesting to track both of them over time and see how well they correlate with each other. The Barclaycard offers a FICO® score, while CreditKarma offers a “TransUnion® New Account Score”. Both are on a 300-850 point scale where higher means more creditworthy.

Sample Snapshot

Historical Scores
The date provided is the observation date when I check each site. Neither scores update daily so they may pull credit report info on slightly different dates. However, over time they should track closely.

Date Barclaycard FICO CreditKarma.com
November 5th, 2013 784 766
December 28, 2013 816 772

 

New Citi ThankYou Premier Card Review

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

  • Earn 20,000 bonus points after you make $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Earn an additional 30,000 ThankYou points after you make another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember.
  • First year annual fee waived, $125 after that.

50,000 ThankYou points is enough to redeem for $500 in gift cards or $625 in airfare when you redeem through their ThankYou Travel Center (25% travel bonus only works if you have the Premier card). Details below. You can also redeem 50,000 TY points for a $500 check towards your student loans and/or mortgage.

The new rewards structure lets you earn:

  • 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment.
  • 2 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for airfare and hotels.
  • 1 ThankYou Point per $1 spent on other purchases.

$625 in Airfare (ThankYou Travel Center)

With the new Citi Premier card, you get a 20% discount on the standard travel redemption that a “regular” Citi card offers. The reverse math means 1 TY point = 1.25 cents towards travel. For example, with my non-Premier card, I found that a flight that cost $360 including taxes and fees on Expedia would cost 36,000 TY points from Citi Travel. But with the Citi Premier, it would only cost 28,800 TY points.

ThankYou Travel Center screenshot:

Expedia.com screenshot:

So 50,000 TY points will get you $625 in airfare. The Citi Travel pricing seems fair, with no inflated prices as compared to Expedia, Orbitz, etc. Since you can book any flight that can be found on Expedia, there are “no blackout dates”.

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Quick Reference: Membership Rewards vs. Starwood Points vs. Chase Ultimate Rewards

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Due to birth of our first child, we haven’t been traveling much the last 24 months. However, I’ve still been racking up the miles (via credit card bonuses, credit card rewards, dining rewards, and shopping portals) and have built up a sizable pile with the three major “superpoints” programs – those that allow transfers to a variety of air and hotel partners. Everyone has their own preferred programs and unique travel needs, but here is a quick reference guide to simplify things. My favorite transfer partners are bolded, but all of the other options are also included. These days I’ll probably just be topping off an account off to qualify for an award ticket or free hotel night. Ratios are 1:1 unless otherwise noted.

Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) Points

  • United Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Hyatt
  • Korean Air
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Marriott
  • Ritz-Carlton
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • Amtrak

Credit card bonuses and rewards are the fastest way to jumpstart your miles balance. Here are related offers:

American Express Membership Rewards (MR) Points

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Money Magazine – Best Credit Cards List 2013

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The October 2013 issue of Money Magazine featured an article “Best Credit Cards” that (unsurprisingly) caught my eye. Here’s a quick list of their top picks for various categories. I’ve written about most of them, and in those cases I’m linking to that post which provides more details. Otherwise, I’m linking directly to the card page and including a few highlights about the card.

Best for Balance Transfers (Low, long introductory APR)

  • Chase Slate Card. 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. No balance transfer fee if you transfer within the first 2 months.

Best for Regular Balance Carriers (Low ongoing APR)

Best for Purchases (Low, long introductory APR)

  • Citi Simplicity Card. 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 18 months. 3% balance transfer fee, $5 min.

Best Tiered Rewards Cards (Tie)

Best Flat and Simple Rewards Cards (Tie)

 

Best Travel Rewards Credit Card

Best Card for Using Overseas

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Chase Freedom 5% Rewards: 2nd Quarter 2014 Activation

A quick reminder that you can now activate the 1st Quarter 2014 rewards for the Chase Freedom® card. From April 1st to June 30th, 2014 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Restaurants
  • Lowe’s home improvement stores

You’ll enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months like gas stations, restaurants and Amazon.com. It’s free and easy to activate your bonus each quarter at ChaseBonus.com. You can also sign up for text or e-mail activation reminders. All other purchases earn 1% back, with no tiers or expiration of rewards. Keep in mind that you actually earn Ultimate Rewards points with the Chase Freedom card and they can be converted to miles like United and British Airways as well as converted to cash.

You will earn an additional 10% Bonus on all new points earned with your Chase Freedom card during billing cycles within the previous Year when you, as the primary cardmember, were the sole or joint owner of an open Chase checking account.

Currently, the Chase Freedom® card is offering new cardholders a $100 bonus if you sign up and make just $500 in purchases in your first three months and  a $25 Bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within this same 3-month period. No annual fee.

Book a Los Angeles to Honolulu Award Ticket for only 25,000 British Airways Avios Points

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I got introduced to British Airways through their generous credit card bonuses. Even if you didn’t, British Airways Avios points are good to understand because Starwood Preferred Guest points, American Express Membership Rewards points, and Chase Ultimate Rewards points can all be transferred to British Airways Avios points on a 1:1 basis or better. This makes it quite easy to gather enough BA miles when you need them to reach an award tier.

Redeeming British Airways Avios points for free award flights is now distance-based, which made some awards more expensive and some cheaper. One important change was that you could now book an American or Alaska Airlines flight from a West Coast city to Hawaii for only 25,000 points roundtrip plus $5 or $10 depending on number of stops with no other fees and taxes. Most other airlines charge at least 35,000.

Now, I’ve gotten comments that British Airways Avios points are “impossible” to use on American or Alaska. If you only want to fly on major holidays and don’t have any flexibility, yes it is very hard because you need to find a “saver” and not an “anytime” ticket. But if you are either willing to book last-minute (less than 2 months) or plan ahead (6+ months) your odds will improve greatly. For example, let’s run a quick search for LA to Honolulu (LAX-HNL) for next month October. To find availability, I’m doing this on American Airlines’ website AA.com. This also works for finding Alaska Airlines flights. Here’s the availability for LAX to HNL:


(click to enlarge)

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Citi ThankYou Preferred Card – 20,000 Bonus Points

Citi ThankYou Preferred Card - Earn up to 30,000 Bonus Points

Citi ThankYou Preferred Card - Earn up to 30,000 Bonus PointsCiti has rolled out a new 20,000 ThankYou point promotion for its Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card. You earn 20,000 bonus points after $1,500 in purchases in the first 3 months of account opening, redeemable for $200 in gift cards. Points do not expire and you can earn an unlimited amount of ThankYou points. No annual fee.

Citi ThankYou points aren’t quite as flexible as some programs in terms of converting to airline miles and direct conversion to cash, but check out my previous post on finding the best Citi ThankYou point redemption options. By being careful with my redemptions, I always manage to get at least $200 of value out of 20,000 ThankYou points.

There have been a couple of new changes to this card. You now get 2 ThankYou points/dollar on purchases for dining and entertainment, and 1 point/dollar on other purchases. The card also added smart chip technology which improves security and acceptance internationally. Finally, don’t forget to use the Citi Price Rewind feature for any larger purchases, as it protects you against future price drops. You must register your purchase, and then if the same item is found with a price at least $25 lower than what you paid within 30 calendar days of your purchase, you can be refunded the difference.

Multiple Uses For The Starwood American Express Card

Starwood Points Convert Easily to Frequent Flier Miles

The Starpoints bonus on this card has been changed to a 25,000 total Starwood points (10,000 with first purchase + 15,000 points when you spend $5,000 within 6 months). Annual fee waived for the first year. Read on below to see why one of us always has a Starwood card, helping me keep my entire family’s miles from expiring as well as stay in top hotels throughout Europe.]

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American ExpressMy favorite travel rewards card for many years has been the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. The reason is the combination of flexibility and value. This is the only annual fee card that I’ve kept consistently over the last 5+ years. Why?

  1. When redeeming towards hotel stays, you can get 2-6 cents of value per point, more than often the value you’d get from airline miles. Get free stays in hotels that otherwise charge $300+ a night.
  2. Rather have miles? You can convert 20,000 points to 25,000 miles, which is 1.25 miles per dollar spent, 25% more miles than most other airline-specific cards.
  3. Easy transfers mean you can “top off” a frequent flier account to get to that coveted reward ticket level. Your miles aren’t worth anything until you actually use them!
  4. You can convert just a few miles to keep your other miles from expiring.

Current Sign-up Bonus For New Accounts

American Express has been changing the sign-up incentive for the Starwood card once a year recently, so now is a good time to apply if you don’t already have the card. They are giving out up to 25,000 bonus Starpoints – 10,000 bonus Starpoints with your first purchase and another 15,000 points when you spend $5,000 within 6 months. The required spending in the past has been as high as $15,000, and the total bonus has been as low as 10,000 Starpoints. The annual fee is waived during the first year, then $65 a year after that.

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Rewards Program Lessons from Perkstreet Financial Shutdown

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Perkstreet Financial started in 2010 as a plucky internet bank start-up that told us credit cards were dangerous and unethical, and you should use a trusty debit card instead. They offered attractive features like 2% cash back on all purchases and 5% cash back on special categories. But then new laws were enacted that limited debit card merchant fees, and Perkstreet took a hit to their main revenue source. On August 12th, they announced that they were shutting down. Oh, and all that cash back “Perks” that their customers earned? Gone with zero prior notice. *Poof*

Consistent with the terms of our Rewards Program Agreement, we have discontinued our perks program and cancelled all perks balances as of today, August 12, 2013.

Consistent with what terms? Wait, I thought you said you were trustworthy? They meant this part:

The Rewards Program and its benefits are offered at our sole discretion. We reserve the right to cancel, terminate, change or temporarily suspend the Rewards Program and to amend this agreement at any time without notice.

Translation: We can do whatever the %(#& we want. But you can’t.

I never had an account with Perkstreet and didn’t lose anything, but many people did. This is a good opportunity to talk about rewards programs in general. Some thoughts:

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Barclaycard Ring Mastercard: 1% Cash Back on Balance Transfers

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The Barclaycard® Ring MasterCard® is a newer card that promotes “community” along with simple terms like no annual fee, no balance transfer fee, and only a $1 fee for cash advances. Usually, balance transfer and cash advance fees are around 3% (i.e. $300 on $10,000). In addition, the card had an 8% APR that applies to everything – purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances. Sadly, this is half the current average APR of ~16% on balance transfer cards. The variable APR is 4.75% + WSJ Prime Rate (currently 3.25%).

However, all these things are pretty much only interesting for people that either carry a balance month-to-month or take cash advances occasionally. That’s not me, and hopefully not you (at least for long).

But then the Barclaycard Ring Mastercard added a new feature: 1% back on balance transfers. On top of having no balance transfer fee, they’ll actually pay you 1% of the balance to move your debt over to them. Quoted from the application:

Balance Transfer 1% Statement Credit Offer: For all Balance Transfers performed within the first 60 days of account opening a statement credit for 1% of the value of the Balance Transfer will be awarded at the end of the close of the cardmember’s billing statement after the qualifying balance transfer is made.

This got me excited at first, but then I remembered the 8% APR on balance transfers. You’d be ahead at first, but after 1.5 months you’d rack up 1% in interest that would offset your 1% cash back. Effectively, it’s an upfront rate reduction. If I had good-to-excellent credit and wanted to save some long-term interest on a balance transfer, I’d check out the Slate Card from Chase with 0% APR For 15 Months + no balance transfer fee.

Was there some other way to take advantage of this unique feature? If you repeatedly cycled balance transfer within the allowed 60-day window, you might be able to rack up some decent rewards. But in practical terms that’s very difficult as balance transfers take time to process and post to your old card. Balance transfer checks would make things much easier, but I’m not sure if they’ll send you any. Also get Complimentary FICO Scores as a benefit to active cardmembers. Opt-in to have instant and convenient access to FICO Scores from your Barclaycard online account.

One way that I can see this card being useful is as a middleman that would allow you to transfer balances between the same issuer. For example, you can’t transfer a balance directly from one Chase-issued card to another Chase card. However, you can transfer your Chase balance to this Barclaycard Ring Mastercard, get the 1% back, wait a while, and then later transfer the balance again to a Chase card with a 0% APR offer (like the new Slate one mentioned above). This would also work from Discover to Discover, Citibank to Citibank, and so on. Overall, this would also let you carry your balance for a little longer at a low interest rate.

British Airways Credit Card Review

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British Airways Visa Signature CardHere’s a great credit card offer that I took advantage of previously for those interested in some free travel either within the US or internationally. The British Airways Visa Signature® Card is offering up to 50,000 bonus Avios after you make $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

In addition to the bonus Avios, you will also get 2.5 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1.25 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 & Beyond, while still giving you the ability to use your card as you do today at home. $95 annual fee.

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. For example, I can get from 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. Shorter-distance flights can be a good deal as well. Roundtrip from Chicago to New York City is only 15,000 Avios points + about $30 in taxes. More details below:

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