Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard Review: $400 Bonus Value + 2.2% Cash Back Towards Any Travel

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The Barclaycard Arrival Plus(TM) World Elite MasterCard® is a new premium travel rewards card with a nice sign-up bonus and also works out to 2.2% cash back towards travel. This results in card that may be the best option for people who like to travel but aren’t loyal to any specific airline program.

Sign-up Bonus: 40,000 miles = $400 off your next trip
There is a limited-time sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles after you make $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. 40,000 miles equates to $400 off your next travel redemption!

Rewards Structure: 2.22% Cash Back Towards Any Travel
With this card, you earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all purchases; 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.

On top of that, the card gives you a 10% miles rebate when you redeem for any travel. So in that 40,000 redemption example above, you would actually get you 4,000 back for a net cost of 36,000 miles. Getting $400 of value out of 36,000 miles at 2X miles/$ spent works out to 2.22% cash back towards any travel. That is very high in terms of easy conversion to cash value.

Card Summary

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days – that’s enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit.
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • Chip card for increased confidence and convenience to pay abroad as easily as you do at home
  • Book the travel you want – airfare, hotels, cruises and more and earn miles on your purchase
  • Get 10% miles back to use toward your next redemption every time you redeem for travel statement credits (i.e. redeem 25,000 miles for travel and get 2,500 miles back)
  • No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country
  • Complimentary online FICO® Score access for Barclaycard Arrival cardmembers

There is a $89 annual fee that is waived for the first year. Balance that with the $400+ opening bonus + 2.22% cash back the first year, and the ongoing 2.22% cash back past the first year. There is also a Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® with no annual fee that is similar but has a lower 20,000 bonus miles but only 2X miles on travel and dining purchases as opposed to all purchases (the rest get 1x miles). I will likely try to downgrade the card to the no annual fee version after a year if I don’t think the 2X miles is working out for me. Barclays does offer instant approval; if you don’t get it call their credit analyst line at 1-866-408-4064.

Square Cash: Send/Request Money Via Debit Card For Free + $1 Carrot

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square1Square, known for helping people accept credit cards with smartphones, has expanded another feature called Square Cash. Yes, it’s yet another attempt at simplifying person-to-person payments, but this time all you need is e-mail and a debit card number. No accounts to open, no passwords to remember, and no fees either.

To request money, just send an e-mail with the following fields:

To: [one or more email addresses]
Cc: request@square.com
Subject: You can write whatever but include $ [amount]

To send money, just send an e-mail with the following fields:

To: [one or more email addresses]
Cc: cash@square.com
Subject: $ [amount]

That’s it, the Square website walks people through the rest. I found it pretty interesting that you can both deposit and withdraw money via debit card. If this stays fee-free then I could actually see myself using this between friends and family. iPhone/Android app also available, but not necessary (it just helps you compose the e-mail).

Right now, Square Cash will give you $1 to try it out. Your debit card number will then be associated with the e-mail address you provided from then on for future payments (unless you change it).

Discover Card 5% Back at Chevron and Texaco Gas Stations

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Just saw this today while filling up at a Chevron. Discover cardholders can get 5% cashback at Chevron and Texaco gas stations from now until March 31st, 2014. Subject to a cap of $250 in purchases. Must sign up first by going to Discover.com/chevron and then logging into your online account. The next screen should look like this:

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This is in addition to the standard 5% back categories on the Discover it card, currently 5% back on up to $1,500 in purchases at restaurants and movies for 1st quarter of 2014. The Chase Freedom card also has gas stations as one of their 5% back categories for Q1 2014 if you have that card (good for up to $1,500 in purchases).

Beware Recurring Preapproved Payments on PayPal – Skype Account Hacked

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Tonight, I got several email confirmations for separate €25 Paypal payments to “Skype Communications Sarl”. Thing is, I haven’t used Skype in years. At first I thought it was just another phishing attempt. But the domain on the e-mail checked out. I logged into my account (manually) and saw that multiple $35 charges did indeed go through. How? Was my PayPal account hacked? I changed my password, and then another unauthorized payment went through!

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Long story short, it was my Skype account that was hacked. I didn’t even know this, but PayPal has a program of “preapproved” payments where a merchant can repeatedly charge your account without the need to type in your PayPal password. This is meant for monthly subscriptions and the sort. Although I have bought credit from Skype before, I don’t ever recall signing up for any of these subscription-style plans at any merchant. My suspicion is that it was buried somewhere into a default checkbox that I didn’t undo, or worse it was just hidden in the terms and conditions fine print. (I am usually really careful about this sort of thing, so I am quite mad at myself!)

Lesson #1: If you use PayPal at all, check your preapproved merchant list immediately. To find this list, log into your account and then go to My Account > Profile > My money > My preapproved payments. You should see a screen like this:

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My recommendation is to make every single one inactive immediately. If not, you should treat your accounts at those merchants as carefully as your bank accounts, because they literally have access to every linked bank account and credit card at PayPal. I had no idea that buying one joke bumper sticker from Zazzle in 2009 could be the equivalent of an open wallet.

Apparently, I’ve been vulnerable for years but I never noticed until now. I bet there are a lot of abandoned Skype accounts with simple or unsecure passwords. The criminals gain access, change the linked e-mail and password so the original owner has no access, and can then sell or use the Skype credit. There are also several other reports of unauthorized Skype/Paypal charges on the Skype forums.

Lesson #2: Never use PayPal to buy things online instead of a credit card unless absolutely necessary, usually for eBay. The big thing is that Paypal is NOT regulated like banks or credit cards. There is no federal law that says you are not liable for unauthorized PayPal charges. Instead, they just claim that you are “protected” when in reality they have all the power to decide if you ever see your money again. I had to open a dispute with PayPal online as they don’t have 24/7 customer service (again, unlike credit cards). If I had just used a credit card, even if the number was stolen, I could be confident that I would get my money back in a timely manner. I’ve already had other bad experiences with PayPal, but we’ll see what happens.

Slate from Chase: 0% APR For 15 Months + NO Balance Transfer Fee for 60 Days!

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Slate from Chase VisaUpdated. If the new year has motivated you to tackle those credit card balances, here’s the best offer available from any bank even including credit unions… 0% APR on both balance transfers and purchases for a full 15 months, with no balance transfer fee and no annual fee.

Limited-time no balance transfer fee offer! The Chase Slate® is now available with 0% introductory APR on both balance transfers and purchases for 15 months, and the best part: $0 balance transfer fee! There are different flavors of this card, but you should see it mentioned right at the top of this specific offer link. You can literally borrow money or transfer existing balances for free and pay it back in 15 months with no interest (keeping in mind you’ll still need to satisfy the minimum payment each month until then). $0 annual fee.

It is very rare these days to find a no balance transfer fee 0% APR offer that is available to all (as opposed to being targeted only to specific customers). You can verify in the Pricing & Terms section of the application, down in the Fees box:

None on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. All other transfers: Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Make sure you initiate that balance transfer within the first 60 days.

Lower your interest on balances!
This is a great opportunity for those people with good to excellent credit but are still working hard to lower their debt payments, as now you can have all your money applied directly into cutting down your principal instead of having it go towards interest and/or fees. The 0% APR applies to new purchases as well, so your balance owed will go down that much faster and you won’t have to worry about interest until well into 2016.

Chase Blueprint is a free feature on select cards that lets you break down your balances into things that you want to pay in full each month and bigger purchases that you wish to pay off over time. A gadgety feature, but if at all possible I say nuke those balances completely!

If you wish to get cash from this balance transfer offer without it being classified as a “cash advance”, one option that has worked for me is to ask for the balance transfer as a check or electronically transferred to your bank account. Just call the number on the back of your card after you get it and tell them you’re trying to pay down debt that’s not on another card.

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

Five Ways To Get a Free Credit Score (No Trials!)

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Updated. You can now again get credit scores from all 3 bureaus for free. The government allows you to get a free credit report every year from AnnualCreditReport.com. But what about your numerical credit score? Here is a compilation of different ways to grab a free credit score without the hassle of annoying trial offers or providing a credit card. The goal: No free trial membership required, no credit card number required, nothing to cancel. Here are the best options I could find.

Remember, everyone has three credit scores, one from each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, TransUnion.

Credit Sesame
Credit Sesame is an ad-supported site that offers you a free credit score based on your Experian credit report. Updates once a month. Range is from 300-850.

You will need to provide your personal information and Social Security number to some of these companies, naturally, so be comfortable with that. None of these methods by themselves will affect your credit score as you are requesting them for yourself.

And now, for a limited time, Credit Sesame is offering $50,000 in identity theft insurance and access to identity restoration help for FREE.

Quizzle
Quizzle logoQuizzle.com is an ad-supported site that offers a free credit score based on your Equifax credit report, called a VantageScore credit score, updated once every 6 months. You also get a free copy of your Equifax credit score once every six months. Twice a year is less often than other services and makes it harder to track credit improvement, but hey it’s still free. The score scale is also 300-850.

CreditKarma
CreditKarma.com is an ad-supported site that offers you the ability to check your credit score based on your TransUnion credit report, updated every week for free. The score range is the same as FICO, from 300-850. They offer insights into improving your credit score, and you can also opt-in to free daily credit monitoring.

Cheap Equifax FICO from myFICO
Alternatively, if you want an official FICO score on the cheap, you can sign up for a month of ScoreWatch at MyFICO.com for $4.95. You’ll get an instant free Equifax credit report and Equifax FICO credit score. You’ll need a credit card. You must call 1.888.577.5978 to cancel within that first month, although you may be able to do it online as well. My recommendation is to get your credit report and credit score, print or save to PDF, and then cancel immediately afterward on the same day so that you won’t forget later. Hours (PDT) M-F 6am-6pm, Sat 7am-4pm, Sun Closed.

Discover it Card ImageFree TransUnion FICO from Discover it Card
The new Discover it® Card offers you a free FICO score based on your TransUnion credit report once every month with your statement. The card has no annual fee and includes features like 5% cash back on rotating categories and no foreign transaction fees.

Target Offers Free Credit Monitoring & Identity Theft Protection

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After losing their customers’ credit card numbers and other personal data, Target is offering free credit monitoring services at creditmonitoring.target.com to anyone who shopped at their US stores. (Supposedly the data breach “only” affected the 70 million people who shopped at US-located Target stores between November 27th and December 15th, but they also seem to be “discovering” more data lost every week.)

The package includes a complimentary copy of your Experian credit report and 12 months of daily credit monitoring from Experian’s ProtectMyID, which includes identity theft insurance and personalized assistance with identity theft fraud. You must sign up for an activation code by April 23, 2014 and redeem by April 30, 2014. ProtectmyID only monitors your Experian credit report for change, including new inquiries, newly opened accounts, new derogatory information (such as delinquencies or medical collections) and more.

This is not part of Target’s offering, but for better overall protection (2 out of 3 credit bureaus) you can also get free credit monitoring of your TransUnion credit report at CreditKarma.com. If you only used one card for Target (or everywhere) you can just ask for a new credit card number without affecting your credit history or credit score.

Frontier Airlines World MasterCard Review: 50,000 Bonus Miles = Two Roundtrip Award Tickets

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Frontier Airlines is a lesser-known budget airline that actually has a pretty decent nationwide footprint using its main central hub at Denver. (see route map). For example, you could fly from Los Angeles to New York La Guardia or from Seattle to Orlando (with a stop in Denver). They also fly to Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Mexico.

I looked this up because The Frontier Airlines World MasterCard® currently has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles. You get 40,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in purchases in the first 90 days, and another potential 10,000 bonus miles on balance transfers (1 mile per $1 transferred) in the first 90 days. The extra 10,000 balance transfer miles aren’t really worth it due to the 3% balance transfer fee (there are better no-fee balance transfer options).

The good news is that it only takes 20,000 miles to book a roundtrip award ticket anywhere in the US that they fly. (Roundtrip awards from US to Mexico and Costa Rica are only 30,000 miles.) This means 40,000 miles is enough for 2 domestic roundtrip award tickets (subject to government fees/taxes of $2.50 per leg). I just quickly priced out a San Francisco to New York La Guardia flight and it was $385 roundtrip per person. That’s over $750 of potential value right there.

You will need to subtract out the $69 annual fee that is not waived for the first year. However, the spending requirement is relatively low at $500 within 90 days and the issuer is Barclaycard. This makes it a good option if you’ve already gotten the good cards from the other major issuers like I have. The only Barclaycard that I have so far is the Arrival World Mastercard with $400+ value bonus, but this card can actually offer more value if your flight plans match up with their routes.

Big List of Free Credit Reports, Free Credit Scores, and Free Credit Monitoring

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Annual reminder for 2014. Want to get back on track for the new year? Here is a list of ways to get free credit reports, free credit scores, and free credit monitoring services.

Remember that there are three major consumer credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – all with possibly different data. A few of these offers require a free trial and noted as such, which is not preferred but I am not completely opposed to as you’re getting something of value in exchange for a bit of hassle. My personal tip is that I always cancel them the same day as part of one continuous process, preferably within an hour after saving what I need, that way there is nothing to forget later.

Free Credit Reports

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228 to request your federally-mandated free credit report from one or all of the 3 major bureaus. You can get one from each every rolling 12 months, so either get them all once a year or space them out. No trials, no credit card required, although the bureaus may try to sell you a credit score.

Special Situations – Denied Credit, Unemployed, Welfare, Identity Theft. As outlined by the Federal Trade Commission, here are a few other scenarios where you also get a free credit report:

  1. You were denied credit, insurance, or a job due to information on your credit report. A notice stating which credit bureau supplied the report should be included in your letter of denial. You then have 60 days to request a free copy of your report from them.
  2. You are unemployed. You’re also entitled to one free report a year if unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days.
  3. You are on welfare.
  4. You are a victim of fraud, including identity theft. Place a fraud alert on your file, and then ask for a free copy of your credit report.

Here are the numbers you’ll need (remember to mention FTC if needed):

* Equifax: 800-685-1111; Fraud Dept. 800-525-6285
* Experian: 888-397-3742 (same for Fraud Dept.)
* Trans Union: 800-916-8800; Fraud Dept. 800-680-7289

MyFICO Score Watch Trial. If you sign up for a free 10-day trial at MyFICO.com, you’ll get a free Equifax credit report and Equifax FICO credit score. You’ll need a credit card. You must call 1.888.577.5978 to cancel. My recommendation is to get your credit report and credit score, print or save to PDF, and then cancel immediately afterward on the same day so that you won’t forget later. Hours (PDT) M-F 6am-6pm, Sat 7am-4pm, Sun Closed.

Free Credit Scores

Your credit score. Did you know that you have probably 50 flavors of your credit score. Even the “real” FICO score comes in several different versions, and there’s one per bureau. Personally, I would never pay $10-$20 a pop for a score. Many of the free providers below will also provide selected information directly from your credit reports, like overall credit limit utilization or total balances.

Credit Sesame / Experian. You can get a free credit score based on your Experian credit report from Credit Sesame, updated every month. They make money by sending you offers like lowering your mortgage rate. Screenshot:

CreditKarma / TransUnion. Similarly, get a free credit score based on your TransUnion credit report from CreditKarma.com, updated daily as long as you login each time. Also ad-supported. Screenshot:

MyFICO Trial / Equifax. Same as above… If you sign up for a free 10-day trial at MyFICO.com, you’ll get a free Equifax credit report and Equifax FICO credit score. You’ll need a credit card. You can try to cancel online, but it told me that you must call 1.888.577.5978 to cancel. My recommendation is to get your credit report and credit score, print or save to PDF, and then cancel immediately afterward on the same day so that you won’t forget later. Hours (PDT) M-F 6am-6pm, Sat 7am-4pm, Sun Closed.

Citi Idenitity Monitor Trial. Finally, if you’re willing to spend $1 and endure a trial, you can sign up with Citi Identity Monitor get a free credit score and free credit reports from each of the three major bureaus. After you submit your personal info, enter your credit card info, and choose your username/password, be sure to opt for the “free upgrade” which will give you the 3-in-1 report. You’ll have to call 866-279-9637 to cancel within 30 days. Again, cancel the same day if possible. Hours (ET) M-F 8am-11pm, Sat 9am-6pm, Sun Closed.

Free Credit Monitoring

Credit monitoring checks your credit report data daily and sends you an email or text alert if any activities have occurred – for example, if there was a credit pull by a lender or a new address added. This can provide early warning of attempted identity theft, reporting errors, or simply am overzealous lender checking your credit without permission. Many providers charge $10-$20 a month for similar monitoring, and while it’s potentially useful I’ve never warmed to the idea of paying a hundred bucks a year for it.

Credit Sesame. You can get free daily credit monitoring based on your Experian credit report from Credit Sesame. If you’ve already signed up for the free Experian-based credit score, it’s a very simple opt-in. Screenshot:

Selected AAA Members. If you’re an AAA auto club member, you may be eligible for free Experian credit monitoring as well. To see if your local club offers this, visit aaa.com/identitymonitoring.

CreditKarma. Get free daily credit monitoring of your TransUnion credit report from CreditKarma.com, also easy to add if you already subscribe to their free TransUnion-based credit score.

How to Get French Laundry Reservations Without Losing Your Mind

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Businessweek has a profile of the latest exclusive, farm-to-table, 16-course-meal restaurant, including a list of the “five toughest restaurant reservations in America”.

I found myself smiling because I recently ate at one of the places on that list – The French Laundry in Yountville, California – with just one phone call. How did I get a reservation? By wringing yet another benefit out of credit cards, of course!

The reservation process for The French Laundry is relatively egalitarian. Reservations are only accepted exactly two months ahead either via phone call or OpenTable.com exactly at 10:00am. No walk-ins allowed. I tried for days with repeated phone calls and frantic clicking, all with no luck.

Then I discovered that some people were able to get reservations using their American Express “Black” card, a card for big spenders willing to pay a $5,000 initiation fee and a $2,500 annual fee. I have a lot of credit cards, but this isn’t one of them.

However, others mentioned using the Concierge feature of Visa Signature cards. Look for the Visa Signature logo on that back of your existing cards. Here are some popular credit cards that are a Visa Signature, many with nice sign-up bonuses and no annual fee:

So I called the special Visa Concierge number (800-953-7392) and asked for help making a reservation for two. The next day, they called back and said that they couldn’t get me a reservation, but that they would keep trying and get back to me when they did. It took a little over a month, but one day I got a message that they had secured me a reservation on a Monday about 6 weeks ahead and for me to confirm that I wanted it. I surprised my wife with the news, and we decided to go for it as a special anniversary celebration.

I’ve read that certain high-demand restaurants have an arrangement with certain credit card companies to set aside a certain amount of seats for their “concierge” services. I imagine most people never use them. I don’t know if someone from Visa Signature really tried to call in every single day, if they have some sort of automated system for snapping up cancellations, or perhaps there is some sort of lottery. All I know is that it worked for me, and it should work for you if you’re flexible on dates.

As for the meal, the food and service were excellent, and we don’t regret splurging for such a memorable eating experience and Napa Valley trip. We even framed the menu and put it in our kitchen. At the same time, we have no plans to spend $600 on dinner again anytime soon. :)

Chase Freedom: $100 Sign-Up Bonus + 2014 5% Cash Back Categories

Chase Freedom Card

Chase Freedom CardThe Chase Freedom® - $100 Bonus is a popular rewards card with no annual fee, as it offers a $100 Bonus after you make $500 in purchases in your first 3 months from account opening, an additional $25 Bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within this same 3-month period and a 5% cash back on rotating categories like gas stations, restaurants, and Amazon.com. It’s free and easy to activate your bonus each quarter! The categories usually include at least one big-spending area, and seem to go with the seasons (home improvement for spring, gas and travel for the summer). For 2014, you can get 5% back on gas for half the year (see below).

Current and 2014 5% Cash Back Categories

From January through March 2014 (activate starting 12/15/13):

  • Gas Stations
  • Movie Theaters
  • Starbucks stores

From April through June 2014 (activate starting 3/15/14):

  • Restaurants
  • Lowe’s home improvement stores

From July through September 2014 (activate starting 6/15/14):

  • Gas Stations
  • Kohl’s®

[Read more...]

Costco.com $15 off $115: American Express Offers

If you have an American Express card, log into your account online and scroll down until you see the “Offers For You” tab. Many (but not all) will find a Costco.com offer where you if you spend $115 on your linked AmEx, you’ll get $10 back. (Looks similar to this). If you’d rather spend money in-store, you can buy a $100 Costco Cash card and a $25 Costco Cash card and you will get the $10 back. I just did it and it worked for me.

Get a one-time $15 statement credit by using your enrolled Card to spend a total of $115 or more online at Costco.com by 12/31/2013.

Also look at the other offers, there are some good ones right now including AMC Theaters, Best Buy, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Kohl’s, Land’s End, and more. (The recent Amazon offer appears to be expired.)

You can also try to access this offer via Facebook. You can also use the Twitter hashtag #AmexCostco if you’re synced up. I was waiting to see if this offer would go wider, but it appears to be limited to those targeted.