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® - $100 Bonus. From July 1st to September 30th, 2014 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Gas Stations
  • Kohl’s®

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.

“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.”

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:


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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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Capital One QuicksilverCash Rewards Card Review – New, Simple 1.5% Cash Back

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Quicksilver CardArtThe Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card is a new credit card that earns unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. In addition, there is a one-time $100 bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months.

This card is all about simple cash rewards with no gimmicks. No points, no miles, no travel credit, no rotating categories. When you apply, you will either get approved or not; you will not be automatically considered for an alternate card. Like most top-tier rewards cards, this card is for those with excellent credit.

You can cash out for any amount, at any time. Your rewards never expire and you can redeem for straight cash via check or statement credit. No caps on earning cash back, either. There is no annual fee. There is no foreign transaction fee.  For purchases, there is a 0% intro APR on purchases until May 2015; 12.9%-22.9% variable APR after that. For balance transfers, there is a 0% intro APR until May 2015; 12.9%-22.9% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amount transferred.

This is a Visa Signature card, so it comes with some additional benefits as listed on the application page. All in all, the $100 bonus and focus on simplicity differentiates this card from competitors in addition to making it an improvement to their previous Cash Rewards card (the Jimmy Fallon commercial one).

In terms of comparison, the Fidelity American Express Card gives you 2% back, but you’ll need to open a Fidelity brokerage account first to get your cash back (only redeemable in $50 increments). AmEx is also less widely-accepted than Visa/Mastercard.

Car Insurance Quote Shopping and Credit Checks

After doing a car insurance quote comparison test, I wanted to clear up any confusion regarding applying for car insurance and your credit history. Here’s why you should be able to get quotes from as many insurers as you like without worrying about your credit score.

Will auto insurance companies check my credit?

Probably. According to recent surveys, over 90% of insurance companies (including the top 5 auto insurers) use credit information in their underwriting process. It’s not the only thing, just one of the many things that gets considered like your driving record or accident history. There is a historical correlation between certain behaviors like high credit limit utilization and filing an insurance claim. Insurance scores weigh various factors differently than in standard FICO scores.

However, certain states including California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts do not allow the use of credit information in the underwriting or rating of car insurance. Texas had a similar bill proposed in 2013, but I don’t think it was passed.

When will they check my credit?

Either during the premium quote process, or when you actually pick one and apply for insurance. (Some will also check your credit upon premium renewal.) Out of the four insurance companies that I got quotes from, only Progressive asked for a Social Security number and it was optional (I declined to provide it). However, all of them get permission from you to run a credit check in the fine print when you apply for a quote.

For some companies, the initial quote provided assumes you have acceptable credit, and during the application process they check your credit and may adjust the quote based on any negative information. For example, your report may show a high utilization percentage of available credit.

Will it affect my credit score? Hard vs. soft pulls

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Chase Ink Plus Business Card Review: $500 Cash, $625 Travel Bonus

Chase Ink Plus Business Card Banner

Chase ink Plus Business CardChase has announced a new small biz credit card, called the Ink Plus® Business Card. It turns out to be very similar to the Chase Ink Bold Business card (full review), but with the important difference that the Ink Plus is a credit card where you can carry a balance and the Bold is a charge card that you must pay in full each month. The current APR for both purchases and balance transfers is 15.24%.

The good news is that the Ink Plus has a sign-up bonus, offering 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after your after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months your account is open. You can read about my Ink Bold bonus experience here. To briefly recap:

Ultimate Rewards points are very flexible:

  • Cash. 1 point = 1 cent in cash, so 50,000 points = $500 cash.
  • Travel. 1 point = 1.25 cents towards travel, so 50,000 points = $620 towards travel at the same prices at Expedia or Travelocity (no markups), split up however you like into multiple tickets, down to the penny.
  • Frequent flier miles and hotel rewards points. Transfers directly to United miles, British Airways miles, Hyatt hotel points, and Marriott hotel points.

The card also has the following same Ink Bold features:

  • Chase celebrates small businesses with a special bonus offer!
  • For a limited time, earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $620 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • With Ink Plus, you have the cash flow flexibility with the choice to pay over time or pay in full.
  • Earn 5X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services.
  • Earn 2X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and for hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • 1:1 point transfer to participating travel programs with no transfer fees.
  • Free Employee Cards.

I noticed that you can buy Amazon.com gift cards at Staples and OfficeMax and get the 5x points, effectively discounting them 5% in cash (6.25% in travel), which may also help you with the spending requirement. Based on past experiences, you should be able to get this card and bonus in addition to the Ink Bold card as they are different cards. I already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred personal card and the Ink Bold card, so I’ll probably wait for a bit during my no-annual-fee first year and then try out this new card as well for my business.

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 you may be a consultant, freelancer, 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.

“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 Bold Review: Business Card Bonus Worth $500 Cash, $625 in Airfare

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myinkboldThe Ink Bold® Business Charge Card is a premium small business being offered by Chase, directly competing with the biz cards from American Express. If you have a small business including freelance or online eBay/Etsy sales, using a business card allows you to separate your personal and business expenses as well as get some nice rewards in the process. Just to get you to try it out, Chase is offering 500 bucks in the form of 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months your account is open.

50,000 Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed for $500 cash (real money, via statement credit or check) or 25% extra = $625 when used towards airfare, split up however you like into multiple tickets. If your total is more than $625, you simply pay the difference. I’ve used this feature and it’s very easy and flexible to book airfare using their points (system and prices are like Expedia, Travelocity, etc). Here’s an example of combining cash and points:

If you prefer, you can also transfer points to British Airways Avios miles, United Airlines miles, Hyatt hotel points, and Marriott hotel points. 1 Chase point = 1 mile/hotel point for these transfers, so that’s 50,000 miles.

You’ll also earn up to 5 points per $1 spent on the first $50,000 spent annually on eligible business purchases:

  • Earn a total of 2 points for each $1 of net purchases made at merchants that classify themselves the following categories: gas stations and hotels stays booked directly with the hotel. (on the first $50,000 spent annually)
  • Earn a total of 5 points for each $1 of net purchases made at merchants that classify themselves the following categories: wireless/telecommunications services (excluding equipment such as phones and fax machines), cable and satellite television services, office supply stores and wholesale distributors of office supplies. (on the first $50,000 spent annually)
  • All other purchases will earn 1 point for each $1 of net purchases.

Getting 5X points back at Office Depot, Staples, and Office Max also means that you get 5X points back on the gift cards sold at these office supply stores. This includes places like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Kmart, Starbucks, TJ Maxx, and more.

There is no annual fee for the first year, $95 after that if you decide to keep it. You also get a free annual membership in Lounge Club, which gets you 2 complimentary visits to participating “first class” airport lounges each year and discounted rates on future visits. After you get the Ink card, register at loungeclub.com/inkcard. The Ink Bold Business Charge Card is a business charge card where you must pay in full each month after a 30-day grace period with no interest.

Jot business receipt management. Chase has now partnered with Jot, so now I can snap a picture of my business receipts with my smartphone and link it to my card purchases. No more shoeboxes or scanning, and it exports into Quickbooks. I haven’t tried this yet, but it sounds like a good backup in case the IRS comes knocking.

Business Credit Card Eligibility

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. Why? Because any individual can be a business as well. The business type is called a sole proprietorship. Perhaps you sell items on eBay, Craiglist, or Etsy. Maybe you do some freelancing and/or consulting. You might have gotten a 1099 tax form and filled out a Schedule C. Boom! You’re a sole proprietorship. 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.

In addition, Chase business cards won’t show up on your personal credit report. Now, this card will require you to personally guarantee that you’ll pay them back what you charge on the card, which means they’ll check your personal credit score like any other consumer card. However, it won’t affect your credit score otherwise, since it doesn’t change things like your credit limits, average account age, or credit utilization ratio.

This card is essentially the small business version of the Chase Sapphire Preferred®, a consumer card which offers 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points = $500 in travel) Compare with the other $500+ Bonus credit card promotions currently available.

“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.”

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN Review

The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPENThe Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN is an premium charge card for small businesses where you must pay off the balance each month, but you get the AMEX perks like purchase price protection, extended product return protection, and the famous AMEX extended warranty that actually pays out. Here are the highlights:

  •  Get 25,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on the Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership
  • Built with business-sized purchasing power and fast rewards
  • 3X points on airfare purchased directly from airlines
  • 2X points on US purchases for advertising in select media, shipping, at gas stations, and made directly from select computer hardware, software, and cloud computing providers
  • Up to $100,000 in each category per year, then 1 point
  • Use points to entertain clients, reward employees, reduce travel costs, or just offset the everyday expenses of moving your business forward
  • Terms and limitations apply

Note: “Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have had this product or any other Business Gold, Green or Platinum Card account within the last 12 months.” I’m not eligible for this one because I already got this exact card in January, but check out my post on apply for multiple American Express cards for ways to maximize your bonuses even more.

Business Credit Card Eligibility

Many people aren’t aware that they can apply for business credit cards, even if they are not a corporation or LLC. Any individual can be a small business. Perhaps you sell items on eBay, Craiglist, or Etsy. Maybe you do some graphic design, web design, freelancing and/or consulting. If you received a 1099-MISC tax form and filled out a Schedule C, that means you have business income, you pay self-employment taxes, and you’re a sole proprietorship. 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 card will require you to personally guarantee that you’ll pay them back what you charge on the card, which means they’ll check your personal credit score like any other consumer card. However, as the card is a business card, American Express won’t have it show up on your personal credit report, so it won’t change things like your credit limits, average account age, or credit utilization ratio.