Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card: 50,000 Bonus Points Review

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit CardMost travel cards offer an ongoing sign-up bonus, but it’s even better when you snag them during a limited-time bump-up – this time it is the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase. The last time I wrote about their  offer was a year ago. The highlights for new Marriott cardholder include:

  • Earn 50,000 Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Enjoy 1 Free Night Stay at a Category 1-5 location every year after your account anniversary date!
  • For every $1 spent, earn 5 points at 4,000 Marriott locations, 2 points on airline ticket purchases directly with airlines, at car rental agencies & restaurants and 1 point everywhere else
  • The fastest way to earn Marriott Rewards points towards free nights
  • No limit to how many points you can earn
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees and enjoy wider acceptance when you travel with your embedded chip card and you make purchases at chip-enabled card readers
  • $0 Introductory annual fee, then $85

We’ve started traveling again as a family, so I looked through Marriott’s redemption offerings. Marriott properties include Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance Hotels, Courtyard, Residence Inn, and Fairfield Inn & Suites. You can view their redemption chart here. Redeem 4 nights and get the 5th night free. Hotels on their PointSavers list have temporarily reduced redemption costs.

50,000 points is enough to get you a night at any Category 8 hotel in the world. Or, 50,000 points can get you two nights at any Category 4 hotel plus a little left over. Or, it could get you five nights at a Category 2 hotel. The free night award can be used for up to a Category 5 hotel. In the top right corner of the redemption chart link, you can view a comprehensive list of what hotels are in any specific category. Here are some options that caught my eye.

Ritz Carlton Tier 5 (Highest tier, 70,000 points a night)

Category 8 Hotels (40,000 points per night, 35,000 if Pointsaver)

Category 7 Hotels (35,000 points per night, 30,000 if Pointsaver)

Category 6 Hotels (30,000 points per night, 25,000 if Pointsaver)

Ritz Carlton Tier 1 (30,000 points per night, 20,000 if Pointsaver)

Category 4 Hotels (Eligible with Cat 1-5 Certificate or 20,000 points per night standard, 15,000 if Pointsaver)

  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista at Vista Centre
  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando at SeaWorld®
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando Lake Buena Vista in the Marriott Village
  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando International Drive/Convention Center
  • Orlando: SpringHill Suites Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando International Drive/Convention Center

As always, hotel points are only good if you can use and enjoy them. Poke around their award listings – Marriott has a lot of different hotel brands to choose from. The Courtyards I’ve stayed in have been modernized and updated, while SpringHill Suites are nice for families. I’ve also gotten to stay at some terrific properties thanks to such point promotions, although I tend to value location and convenience over the bling factor.

If you’ve gotten a bonus from this Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card within the last 2 years, please note the following:

This 50,000 bonus point offer is available to you as long as you have not received a new cardmember bonus for this product in the past 24 months.

I was wrong initially as Marriott points are convertible to gift cards, but it takes 60,000 points to redeem for a $200 gift card for Marriott or retailers like Best Buy, Home Depot, or Nordstrom. That ratio isn’t all that great, you’ll definitely get the most value out of your points if you stay at Marriott hotels.

On your account anniversary, you’ll get a certificate for a free Category 1-5 night which you can weigh against another $85 annual fee. As long as you can use that certificate for a decent hotel, getting $85 value is certainly achievable. For example, a random night at the (Category 4) Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista at Vista Centre was $115 when including taxes.

“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.”

Discover it Card Double Cash Back For 12 Months Promotion

Discover it 14 ImageDiscover has announced a new promotion for their Discover it Double Cash Back your first year. In addition to all the existing perks like 5% cash back categories and free monthly FICO score outlined in my Discover it Double Cash Back your first year review, they are also adding “Double all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your 1st year—automatically.” for new applicants.

That means you would effectively earn 2% cash back on all purchases and 10% cash back on their rotating bonus categories during the first year of card membership. Here’s what we know about the bonus categories for 2016

Discover it Cashback Calendar

 

  • January through March 2016 is Gas and Ground Transportation. “Discover Cardmembers are signing up to get 5% Cashback Bonus on up to $1,500 in purchases at Gas Stations and Ground Transportation from through March 2016.

I know I certainly wouldn’t mind getting 10% back at gas stations.  (Note: Depending on your usage of the 5% (again, doubled would be 10%) categories, you should also consider the Discover it Miles Card which also has a doubling offer for new applicants that works out to 3% cash back for the first 12 months.)

Discover also has a new feature called “Freeze It” that allows you to stop any new purchases in seconds by “freezing” your account via mobile app or website.

When you freeze your account, Discover will not authorize new purchases, cash advances or balance transfers. However, some activity will continue, including bills that merchants mark as recurring, as well as returns, credits, dispute adjustments, payments, Discover protection product fees, other account fees, interest, rewards redemptions and certain other exempted transactions.

There is also 0% intro APR on purchases & balance transfers for 12 months (then a variable purchase APR applies, currently 11.24% – 23.24%. A 3% fee applies to each transferred balance).

I have a Discover it card as a “keeper” card as it has no annual fee and I can enjoy the 5% bonus categories and free FICO score whenever it suits me. Discover’s policy in the past had been to only allow one card per person, but now you can have two (i.e. you can have both a Discover it and a Discover it Miles.)

Citi Prestige and Global Entry Application Fee Reimbursement Experience

citiprestigereal3

After researching the details for my Citi Prestige Card review, I went ahead and applied for one since I felt I could get over $1,400 of value in exchange for the $450 annual fee. Part of that would come from the $100 application fee credit they give you when you apply for the Global Entry Program.

(Side note: I applied for the card and actually got an instant rejection online. Naturally, I was disappointed and planned on calling their reconsideration line in a few days. But before I got the chance, I was sent the card in a fancy welcome package via Next-Day Air. Curious!)

Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check Highlights. Here is a brief description of the Global Entry program from the Citi Prestige page:

Global Entry Membership allows international travelers expedited entry upon arrival in United States, by using automated kiosks when entering the United States. Once approved, Global Entry members can use automated kiosks in most major U.S. airports, rather than having to go through the traditional arrival process. There is a $100 application fee payable to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) which administers the program. As a benefit of the Citi Prestige Card, Citi will provide one statement credit for this $100 application fee, once the fee is charged to the account. The $100 application fee credit will reset once every 5 years.

Global Entry automatically includes membership to TSA Pre-Check, which provides expedited security screening at participating airports in the US for eligible travelers. If in the (ideally shorter and faster-moving) TSA Pre-Check line, you won’t have to remove your belt, shoes, light jacket, or take out your your laptop from carry-on. See this Trusted Traveler Program comparison chart for details. TSA Pre-Check is open to U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents.

You can also just apply to TSA Pre-Check separately, but that costs $85 on its own and also only lasts 5 years. Considering it would be reimbursed either way, it was a no-brainer for me to just apply to Global Entry for $100. Here is a brief summary of the qualification criteria for Global Entry:

To qualify you must be a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent residents of the U.S., and citizens of certain other countries are eligible for Global Entry membership provided that they:
*Have never been convicted of a criminal offense in any country
*Have never been found in violation of customs, immigration or agricultural laws
*Do not provide false or incomplete information on their application
*Are not the subject of an investigation by any Federal, State, or local law enforcement agency.

Global Entry Application Process. I applied on 5/6 and was given “conditional approval” on 5/10. That meant that I was allowed to go online and schedule my in-person interview at my nearest Global Entry Enrollment Center, which for me (and probably most people) was at the US Customs and Border Patrol office at an international airport. I could have gotten a spot in under a week, but based on my availability the best time was 8 days later on 5/18.

The interview involved bringing my passport and one additional form of identification, answering some brief interview questions, standing for a mugshot and thumbprints, and finally watching a short 5-minute video on the rules of Global Entry. It took about 30 minutes including wait time.

That same day, I was notified online that I was approved and given my Global Entry membership number which can be used as part of the Trusted Traveler Program. I quickly typed this number into my frequent flier accounts in the hopes of getting expedited TSA Pre-Check lines for my upcoming travel. A few days later I received a physical membership card via US postal mail. The Global Entry card can be used for border crossing by car or boat.

Citi Prestige Fee Reimbursement Timeline. The terms and conditions state the following:

Citi Prestige® account cardmembers are eligible to receive one (1) statement credit per account, every five (5) years up to $100, for either the Global Entry or the TSA Pre Check® application fee. Cardmember must charge the application fee of at least $85 to their Citi Prestige® Card to be eligible for the statement credit. Cardmembers will receive a statement credit for the first program (either Global Entry or TSA Pre Check®) to which they apply and pay for with their eligible card, regardless of whether they are approved for Global Entry or TSA Pre Check®.

The one (1) statement credit every five (5) years for the application fee charged to the Citi Prestige® credit card account is applied by Citi directly to the card account. Please allow 1-2 billing cycles after the qualifying Global Entry or TSA Pre ? ® is charged to the eligible account for the statement credit to be posted to the account.

Even though the terms tell you to allow 1-2 billing cycles, I was credited the $100 right before the close of the statement cycle in which I made the $100 application fee charge (along with my $450 annual fee). For example, my first statement cycle closed 5/18 and here is a screenshot from my account:

prestigeglobal_full

People with kids should note that while TSA Pre-Check allows children 12 and under to go with you in line without separate membership, Global Entry requires every single person (no matter the age) to have their own separate Global Entry membership in order to use the special kiosks.

Capital One Spark Business Credit Cards: $500 or 50,000 Miles Bonus

sparkyLooks like the small business credit card competition is heating up. Capital One has temporarily upped the sign-up bonus on both of their small business cards:

Capital One Spark® Cash for Business is offering a one-time $500 cash bonus once you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first 3 months. There is a $59 annual fee that is waived for the first year. “Existing or previous Accountholders may not be eligible for this one-time bonus.” Note that there is also a Spark Select for Business and Spark Classic that are different cards with lower sign-up bonsues but no annual fee.

The Spark Cash for Business offers 2% cash back for all purchases, which is strong, but you have to weigh that against the $59 annual fee after the first year. If it was 2% with no annual fee, that would be keeper business card for sure. Just comparing the two CapOne cards head-to-head, you have to spend more than $11,800 every year to make the 2% back and $59 annual fee (Spark Cash) pay out more rewards than 1.5% back and no annual fee (Spark Cash Select).

Capital One Spark® Miles for Business is offering one-time bonus of 50,000 miles – equal to $500 in travel- once you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first 3 months. There is a $59 annual fee that is waived for the first year. “Existing or previous Accountholders may not be eligible for this one-time bonus.” Similar to the offer above, the Spark Miles offers 2 miles per dollar with the $59 annual fee but there is also a Spark® Miles Select for Business that offers 1.5 miles per dollar with no annual fee.

As far as “normal” small business spend, I usually don’t charge more than $12,000 a year on my small business. My primary expenses are web hosting, cell phone, internet, and office equipment. But if you spend a lot on stuff that doesn’t fit in the 5%/2% bonus categories of the Chase Ink Cash or Chase Ink Plus cards (office supply, internet, cell phone, cable TV, gas stations, restaurants), then these cards may be a good fit as a primary small business card.

Here are some selected quotes from the fine print for the Spark Cash card (not Miles):

How does my spend bonus work?
You will earn a $500 bonus if you spend at least $4,500 within 3 months of your rewards membership enrollment date. Once you qualify for this bonus, we will apply it to your rewards balance within two billing cycles. Existing or previous Accountholders may not be eligible for this one-time bonus.

How do I redeem my rewards?
You can get your cash back upon request in the form of a statement credit or a check. You can also set up an automatic redemption preference; options include: (1) at a set time each calendar year or (2) when a specific threshold ($25, $50, $100 or $200) has been reached. Just go online to capitalone.com or contact our Rewards Center. […] Until you set up an automatic redemption preference, you will receive your cash back each year in the form of a check issued in your rewards membership anniversary month.

I’m not sure why someone would pick the miles over the cash, since the miles are restricted to use over travel. My theory is that some businesses like that the miles aren’t cash because then they can be given out as a non-taxable perk like other frequent flier miles?

Note: I do not receive any referral fees for the application links above. They are the best publicly-available offers that I could find. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card Review

United Mileage Plus Explorer Card The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is now offering 30,000 United miles after spending $1,000 in 3 months.  A card specifically designed for those who fly United, and fly them often.

Here are the highlights for the United Mileage Plus Explorer Card:

  • Start with 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Check your first bag for free – save up to $100 per roundtrip
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club with two one-time-use passes every year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn double miles on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Your miles don’t expire as long as your credit card account is open, with no limit to the number of miles you can earn
  • Use your miles for any seat, any time, on any United flight
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95

All in all, a good card for regular United fliers with the free bags and priority boarding. Every year you spend $25,000 in purchases using your United MileagePlus Explorer Card, you’ll earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles. That means at 25k of spending, you’ll be getting 1.4 miles per dollar on all purchases.

Keep in mind the following terms and conditions:

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.

“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.”

AT&T Access More MasterCard from Citi Review – GSM Phone Offer (Up to $650)

accessmore180Our partner Citi has launched yet another new card, AT&T Access More MasterCard® from Citi. This AT&T co-branded card obviously targets a niche, but read on if you will be in the market for a new GSM phone in the next year ($650 is the full price of a new iPhone 6). As such, this card took a little extra research and analysis. Be sure to read all the details before applying, so you understand how to get everything possible out of this offer.

“Exclusive New Phone Offer” details. Yes, the offer screams “new phone”! But lots of ads say that. What kind of new phone? Does it include iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S6? What strings are attached? Do I need to sign a contract?

  • You must spend $2,000 in purchases with your AT&T Access More Card within 3 months of account opening. As with other sign-up bonuses, this is the spending hurdle. The application page also says “If you buy a new phone now it will count toward the $2,000 in qualifying purchases!”. At first, I read this to mean “buy a phone and you don’t need to spend $2,000 anymore”. Nope. It’s just reminding you that if, for example, you buy a $650 phone on this card, then you’ll only need to spend another $1,350 on the card to meet the $2,000 threshold.
  • You can get any new phone on the AT&T website. Apple iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung S6, Samsung S6 Edge, flip phone, whatever.
  • They’ll give you up to $650 back towards a new phone bought full price with no annual contract… At first this may seem like a negative, man I have to buy it at full price? But that’s actually a good thing when the credit is for up to $650! For example, an iPhone 6 starts at $649.99 and Samsung S6 starts at $684.99. (Taxes, shipping, fees, and wireless service not included.)
  • … which also means lower monthly bills! When you essentially bring your own device (BYOD) buy buying the phone outright, AT&T will give you lower bills in the form of $15 to $25 off each month on their Mobile Share Value plans. Also, the $40 per-line activation fee is waived when you buy the phone at full price (and is not waived for 2-year contracts). More details on this below.
  • Since you own the phone and are not on a contract, you can also unlock it for use on any carrier. You can find unlock instructions at att.com/deviceunlock. are the AT&T unlock instructions [pdf]. Postpaid customers have an active account for at least 60 days, with no past due or unpaid balance. Non-AT&T customers can request a phone unlock before activating the phone on an AT&T plan. After submitting your request, the unlock should be done within 48 hours.
  • You must buy the phone using their special link. After you buy the phone, then activate it on an AT&T monthly plans of you choice for at least 15 days. Remember, you’re not bound to a contract after that. It’s easier just to quote from their Terms and Conditions:

    You must purchase an eligible phone from AT&T with your AT&T Access More Credit Card from Citi (the “Card”) using the Phone Offer Link created individually for you. This link may be accessible to you in several locations including, but not limited to, your approval screen at the time you apply, an email welcoming you to Access More Card membership (if you provide a valid email address) and through your Online Account at citi.com/att. You may redeem the Phone Offer using the link at any time after your Card account opening. Once you have made $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your Card account opening, and purchased and activated your eligible phone, Citi will credit your account for the cost of the eligible phone you purchased up to $650 (exclusive of taxes, fees, shipping and wireless service) within 1 to 2 billing cycles. If you choose to purchase an eligible phone which costs more or less than $650, your credit will equal the cost of the phone or $650, whichever is less.

Side question: How does paying full price for a phone compare with the subsidized 2-year contract or the AT&T Next plan? Most people don’t pay full price for a phone. It’s a lot of money. AT&T Next is basically like agreeing to pay full price for a phone but they let you pay in monthly installments instead. So the $650 iPhone 6 would $21.67 for 30 months (multiply that out and you get $650.10.) Nothing really special there. The traditional alternative is that you get a subsidized phone but you enter a 2-year contract at a higher monthly bill. Here’s how the two options compare:

  • The phone subsidy with a 2-year contract is $450, but you have a $40 activation fee. So the $650 iPhone 6 would only cost $200, plus a $40 per-line activation fee.
  • The monthly bill subsidy with a full price phone adds up to either $360 or $640 over 2 years. With the full price phone, there is no activation fee. If your Mobile Share Value plan comes with 6GB of data or less, you get a $15 discount per month per line. $15 times 24 months = $360. If your Mobile Share Value plan comes with 10GB or more, you get a $25 discount per month per line. $25 times 24 months = $600.

So if you compare the savings between the full price plan as 2-year contract, you’re either behind by $50 over two years, or ahead by $190 over two years. So worst case you’re behind by $50 at the 2-year mark, but if you kept your full price phone and cheaper-by-$15 plan for just an extra 4 months past the contract end date, you’d be ahead again.

Ongoing card rewards program highlights. This card also has a unique rewards program using Citi ThankYou points:

  • 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 you spend on purchases made online at retail and travel websites*
  • 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 you spend on products and services purchased directly from AT&T*
  • 1 point earned for every $1 you spend on other purchases*
  • 10,000 Anniversary bonus points after you spend $10,000 in prior cardmembership year*
  • $95 annual fee.

Here are snippets from the fine print that I think are helpful:

Retail websites are websites that sell goods directly to the consumer through an online website and include department store websites, specialty store websites, warehouse store websites and boutique websites. Travel websites are websites that allow you to book travel and include online travel agencies, hotel websites and airline websites.

AT&T purchases are AT&T consumer products and/or services purchased directly from AT&T. AT&T consumer products and services must be purchased from www.att.com, www.telephones.att.com, AT&T owned stores or AT&T customer service centers. Purchases from independent wireless dealers or AT&T resellers are not eligible, unless they are for payment of AT&T service.

That means you can get 3 ThankYou points per $1 of purchases at Amazon.com, Costco.com, Apple.com, Walmart.com, Target.com, Expedia.com, and so on as well at your AT&T monthly service bill. Please see my Citi ThankYou Premier card review for details on redeeming your ThankYou points for at least $100 value per 10,000 points, but note that the special 25% bonus on travel redemption only apply if you also hold the ThankYou Premier card (you can redeem points earned from this card). Throw in the even-more special American Airlines flight awards from the Citi Prestige card and those 3X ThankYou categories start looking even better.

Bottom line. This is a niche card for folks that will soon be in the market for a new GSM phone, especially AT&T customers. (Non-AT&T customers can request a phone unlock before activating the phone on an AT&T plan, after which you’ll have an unlocked GSM phone that can be used on another GSM carrier. Afterward, you’ll still need to activate an AT&T plan for 15 days to get the credit.) If that’s you, then the sign-up bonus is very generous – up to $650 towards a full-price, no-contract AT&T GSM phone. Looking at all the scenarios above, even in the worst case you’d be behind $50 after two years vs. buying new AT&T phone via 2-year contract. There is also the $95 annual fee. That’s still a net benefit of over $500 and thus one of the top credit card sign-up bonuses currently available. The card then offers you ongoing bonus rewards on AT&T service as well as an interestingly broad category of “retail websites”. However, that $95 annual fee is rather high unless you spend $10,000 annually on the card and get the 10,000 ThankYou point anniversary bonus to offset it.

“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.”

Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card: Two Free Weekend Nights (Which I Redeemed for $1,109 Value)

Hilton HHonors Reserve Card ArtThe premium co-branded Citi Hilton Hotels card, from our partner Citi, is the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card. The sign-up bonus includes certificates good for 2 Free Weekend Nights, with “weekend night” meaning a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night after spending $2,500 in purchases within 4 months of account opening*. If you like staying at posh hotels, you can get $500+ value out of each certificate and easily $500 of value out of them together. Card feature summary:

  • Earn 2 weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton Portfolio after you make $2,500 in purchases within 4 months of account opening*
  • Earn 10 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on hotel stays within the Hilton Portfolio*
  • Earn 5 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on airline and car rental purchases*
  • Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases*
  • Enjoy the benefits of HHonors Gold status as long as you are a cardmember*
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases*
  • Travel with ease and enjoy global acceptance with your Citi chip credit card

The two free weekend night certificates have no category restrictions, but do have the following exclusions (often these are condo-hotels). Certificates are valid for 12 months after issuance. Must be used on “standard” rooms (no upgraded suites, etc). Room taxes are included with the certificates. Booking the same rooms using rewards points would cost 50,000-70,000 HHonors points per night. Possible choices include:

grandmaui

Update: I applied myself, satisfied the requirement, received my two rewards certificates, and redeemed for $1,000+ worth of rooms in Hawaii. I applied for this card (Day 0) and made my first purchase Day 7, first statement about a month later, was charged the $95 annual fee, satisfied the spending hurdle, second statement closed, and I was issued the two weekend night certificates via e-mail after that (Day 67). Here is a screenshot:

citihiltoncert

According to commenter TJ below who satisfied the spending requirements in the first billing cycle, s/he got the certificates two weeks after the close of the 1st statement. My guess is that they just want to make sure you pay the annual fee. Also, good tip to check your spam folder for the e-mailed certificates!

I called in to book the nights I wanted at my resort of choice – the Grand Wailea (Waldorf Astoria) in Maui. (I’ve never stayed there before, but it looks pretty awesome.) Keep in mind that although there are no category restrictions (it doesn’t matter how expensive the hotel is on average), you can only book a “standard room” which I believe is their cheapest tier of rooms. So if you want a busy weekend that is coming up soon and those cheaper rooms are sold out, you may not get it. However, I was able to get two consecutive weekend nights. I am also able to cancel without any penalty or fees up until 14 days before the booking.

If I was booking with cash on the exact same dates and exact same room, it would have cost me $1,109.25. Here’s proof via screenshot from the booking website:

citihiltoncert2

If I was to have used points, it would have taken 70,000 per night for a total of 140,000 Hilton Honor points. Note that I took out the resort fees, which are reportedly not waived when booking with certificate or points redemptions (any taxes on the room rate are covered). Resort fees are $25 per night ($28.35 with taxes). You actually get the following stuff too: “Guest internet access; beach umbrellas for use on Wailea Beach; admission to twice daily SCUBA clinics; free bike rental”.

Recap

In the end, this is a great way for casual travelers to stay two nights at a really fancy hotel where you can’t imagine paying over $300 a night. We applied and got ourselves two nights at the Grand Wailea in Maui. However, you should keep in mind that the reward certificates are only for Fri/Sat/Sun nights and are based on room availability so some flexibility in either hotel choice or dates is recommended. On an ongoing basis, the card is ideal for Hilton hotel regulars – You get 10x points on Hilton purchases and free Gold elite status (perks include late checkout, free Wi-Fi, and a free breakfast at many hotels). If you spend $10,000 in a year, you get another free weekend night certificate, which you can weigh against the $95 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.”

Citi Prestige Card Review: New 50,000 Point Offer (Worth $800 in American Airlines Airfare)

Citi ThankYou Prestige Card ArtOur partner Citi has revamped the Citi Prestige® Card, their premium ThankYou point rewards card. The sign-up bonus has been increased to 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. 50,000 TY points are redeemable for an $800 flight on American Airlines or US Airways, a $665 flight on any other airline, or $500 in gift cards.

There is a hefty $450 annual fee that is not waived the first year, but the card also includes a $250 air travel credit every year that is valid towards any airfare bought from any airline (and also baggage fees). Per the fine print, the $250 annual credit resets every December through the next December. So you could conceivable qualify for a $250 credit on airfare in November and then another $250 in January.

Here’s a summary of the one-time sign-up bonuses and perks:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • $100 Global Entry application fee credit. Citi will cover the $100 application fee on a one-time basis when you charge it to the card. Global Entry allows you to get through international customs faster when entering the US. The $100 application fee credit will reset once every 5 years.

Here’s a summary of ongoing highlights of the card:

  • $250 Statement Credit for Air Travel each year. Unlike other cards, airfare counts as well as baggage fees, lounge access, and other incidental purchases. This renews every calendar year, so it can be used to help offset the annual fee every year. “This statement credit is an annual benefit available for purchases appearing on your billing statements from December through the following December. Pending transactions that do not post in your December billing cycle will count towards the next year’s Air Travel Credit.”
  • Complimentary access to nearly 40 American Airlines Admirals Club® lounges, plus hundreds of VIP lounges through Priority Pass Select. Valid for you and your entire immediate family (spouse, domestic partner and/or children under 18 years of age) or up to two companions. Priority Pass lounges tend to be at international airports.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels.
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment.
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on Purchases.
  • Includes chip technology which increases acceptance overseas.
  • Transfer points to a variety of travel loyalty programs from airlines to hotels.
  • Complimentary 4th Night for any hotel stay. This could be nice, but your stay must be booked through their designated travel agent, so I’m not sure if that means the rates will be the same as say Expedia or Travelocity.
  • Complimentary greens fees at more than 2,400 public and private golf courses around the globe. The terms specify that you get 3 complimentary rounds of golf through the Citi Prestige® Golf Portal (provided by GolfSwitch, Inc.) each calendar year.
  • $450 Annual Fee. Not waived for the first year.

The Citi Prestige is most attractive for people who fly on American Airlines and US Airways (the two are merging). Citi and American are tight these days; the competing American Express Platinum no longer offers American Airlines lounge access at all.

With this card, you can redeem 1 ThankYou point to get 1.6 cents worth of American Airlines and US Airways airfare. You can’t do this with any other ThankYou card, but if you have it then all your ThankYou points earned from any other card can be redeemed this way. That means if you redeem your points towards American Airlines or US Airways airfare, you’ll get 1.6% back standard while the 2X and 3X categories turn into 3.2% back at restaurants and 4.8% back on airfare and hotels. (If you have CitiGold checking account or Citi Private Banker, you’ll get an additional 15% or 25% bonus respectively on ThankYou points earned.) You can also get 1.33 cents per point value by redeeming towards airfare on all other airlines.

Citi ThankYou points are also now available to transfer to certain airline mileage programs on a 1:1 basis including Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Etihad, Flying Blue by Air France and KLM, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways.

Bottom line. If you add up all of the perks including 50,000 TY point sign-up bonus (worth $800 in American Airlines or US Airways airfare), $250 annual airfare credit that resets every December (so you can get it twice under one annual fee), American Airlines first class lounge access, $100 Global Entry application fee credit, 3.2% back on restaurants and 4.8% back on airfare and hotels when redeemed for American Airways airfare), you can see that for the right person the $450 annual fee can be more than worth it. In my mind, that person should fly American or US Airways at least once a year if not more often.

In addition, if you have a big stash of Citi ThankYou points, getting this card could greatly increase the value of your existing point balance due to the special American Airlines conversion rate.

“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.”

Chase IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card Review: What Does 60,000 Points Get You?

IHG Rewards CardThe Chase IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card has a promotion where you can get 60,000 bonus IHG points after you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months of account opening.  This card also has the annual fee waived for the first year. So the question is what will 60,000 of these lesser-known IHG points get you? Put another way, how much should I value a single IHG point?

Here are the card highlights plus my notes from the fine print:

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. “After qualifying, please allow 6 to 8 weeks for bonus points to post to your account. 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.”
  • Enjoy a free night each year of card membership at over 4,900 hotels worldwide. “Anniversary Free Night is valid at hotels in the IHG® Rewards Club Family of Brands and must be redeemed, and stay must be completed, within 12 months from date of issue. Anniversary Free Night is valid for one standard room night rate and applicable taxes only. Rooms are limited, subject to prior sale and availability of allocated resources and may be unavailable during high demand periods.”
  • Earn 5 points for each $1 spent at our hotels
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants
  • Bonus points redeemable at hotels such as Intercontinental® Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza® Hotels & Resorts and Holiday Inn®
  • Automatic platinum elite status, as long as you remain a cardmember
  • $0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $49.

In terms of rewards on purchases, cardmembers will:

  • Earn 5 points for each $1 spent at IHG hotels
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants
  • Earn 1 point for $1 spent on everything else.

IHG stands for Intercontinental Hotel Group which has over 4,700 hotels including the following brands:

  • Intercontinental® Hotels & Resorts
  • Crowne Plaza®
  • Holiday Inn®, Holiday Inn Express
  • Staybridge Suites®
  • Candlewood Suites®
  • Hotel Indigo®
  • EVEN Hotels

IHG Point Value Comparisons

IHG Rewards Club puts out a new list of PointBreaks hotels every few months where you can redeem a hotel night for only 5,000 points. That means your 60,000 bonus points from this card could technically earn you 12 free nights! If those hotel rooms would otherwise cost $100 a night including taxes, you’d be getting $1,200 value from 60,000 points. Valuing the hotels at $50 a night including taxes, you’d be getting $600 value from 60,000 points. This is where you can see valuations anywhere between 1.5 cents and 2 cents per IHG point.

But that’s not very realistic. There are some nice hotels on the list, but the locations are very specific and few people are sufficiently flexible with their travel to constantly take advantage of these deals.

I recently spent a week at a Staybridge Suites in Austin with my family and it was great. The room felt like an apartment with a living room, full kitchen, and separate bedroom. Every morning there was a buffet breakfast with eggs, bacon, cereal, bagels, fruit, yogurt, juice, and so on that I could grab and bring back into my suite where the kids could run around. I’ll be returning and willing to pay the going rate again, so how much would it cost me in points?

Here’s an actual rate quote for 9/16 to 9/22 for the same Staybridge Suites:

ighcard1

Keep in mind that the quote doesn’t include taxes, which would make the $148 average nightly rate into $170 with taxes. The 25,000 points per night include taxes, so that would work out to roughly 0.7 cents per point in value. At that rate, 60,000 points would be worth $420.

Also note that with the 25,000 point redemption, you can cancel up until the very last minute (6pm local time the day of check-in), while the $170 rate is a non-refundable advance purchase. The true equivalent refundable room rate is $203, or $233 per night including taxes. That is more like 0.9 cents per IHG point, where 60,000 points would be worth $560.

You can perform the same calculations for hotels that fit your needs. I tried a bunch of other various combinations and always got between 0.6 cents and 1.1 cents per point equivalent value.

In terms of luxury hotel room nights, let’s try the same week at the InterContinental New York Times Square:

ihgcard2

You’re looking at $493 a night including taxes for non-refundable advance purchase, or $576 including taxes for refundable. Points would cost 50,000 a night, making it roughly 1 to 1.1 cents per point value. At that rate 60,000 points = $600 to $660.

Recap
While it is certainly possible to get $500+ value out of the 60k point bonus, I would stick with a more conservative estimate of $350 (~0.6 cents a point) and hope to be pleasantly surprised. But it’s an easily achievable $400-$450 value at a wide variety of hotels from budget to luxury (32 IHG hotels in Austin, TX area alone for example) with no blackout dates making it suitable for all types of travelers. The annual fee is waived for the first year, so you can enjoy the other perks of the card like 10% point rebate and complimentary Platinum Elite status. After that, you’ll have to decide based on your travel habits if the $49 annual fee is sufficiently offset by the free hotel night perk.

In terms of putting all your spending on this card, since I think an IHG point is often worth less than a cent per point on average, it is not as good an all-around rewards card as many of its competitors. I might put my IHG paid hotel stays on it, but that’s about it.

IHG Rewards Banner

“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 Simplicity Card Review: 0% for 21 Months, No Late Fees, No Penalty Rates

citisimplicity175New 21 month offer (1.75 years). I usually focus on rewards-earning credit cards, but I know many folks are still carrying some balances and thus more concerned about their whopping 15% interest rate rather than a relatively puny 2% back on purchases. Our partner Citi has launched the Citi Simplicity® Card, which is uniquely suited for those that want to transfer higher rate balances to a long 0% intro period while also offering some “accident forgiveness insurance”. The highlights:

  • 0% Intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening. Balance transfer fee is 3% of balance transfer amount, $5 minimum. This is one of the longest offers out there for balance transfers.
  • 0% Intro APR on purchases for 21 months. This means you can keep charging your new purchases on this card as well and also enjoy no interest for 21 months. Also one of the longest 0% offers available for purchases.
  • No late fees. If you’re late on a payment, you won’t be dinged with a ~$40 late fee as with many other cards.
  • No penalty APR. Even worse than a late fee, a missed payment can lead to a rate hike into a “penalty” APR rate as high as 25% or more. The Simplicity does not have penalty APRs.
  • No annual fee.
  • Direct to human help. If you call in and say “representative”, you’ll be transferred directly to a human, 24 hours a day.

The Citi Simplicity card does not earn any cash back, points, miles, or free toasters; I’d open a separate card for rewards. It does include additional purchase benefits such as Citi Price Protection (price drop protection on brick and mortar purchases) and free Extended Warranty (extends manufacturer’s warranty for up to 12 months).

Alternatively, the Chase Slate® Card offers 0% APR on balance transfers for 15 months with no balance transfer fee, but does not include some of the more consumer-friendly features of this card that ensure your low rates don’t get hiked.

To summarize, the Citi Simplicity® Card is a solid card with one of the longest 0% introductory periods currently available on both purchases and balance transfers. If you are serious about paying off some credit card debt, this offer will get you no interest for 1.75 years with minimal gotchas.

“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.”

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

Slate from ChaseUpdated with free FICO score information. Looking to pay down debt in 2015? Transfer your balances to the Chase Slate® Card and get 0% APR For 15 Months and pay NO BALANCE TRANSFER FEE if done within 60 days of account opening. You won’t pay any more interest until 2017, and all your money will go towards paying down the balance principal. You can literally borrow money 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.

Free Monthly FICO Score
As of March 2015, the Chase Slate card now offers an EMV security chip and a free FICO score every month. The FICO score will be based on your Experian credit bureau report, and they’ll also have a “Credit Dashboard” that tells you reasons behind your score and a summary of your Credit Report information. Here’s a screenshot:

slatefico

According to the WSJ, so far this is only available on the Slate and not other Chase-issued credit cards. This is because the Slate is by far Chase’s most popular card for those transferring existing balances and that means many of those 10 million cardholders care about their interest rates and credit scores.

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.”

Blue Cash Preferred from American Express Review: 6% Cash Back on Groceries

amex_bcpThese days, the most likely reason we break our monthly budgets is that we eat too much at restaurants or take-out. The more I spend at the grocery store on raw ingredients, the more I cook, and the less we spend on food overall.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express gives me 6% cash back at US stand-alone supermarkets, for up to $6,000 per year in purchases. That’s works out to an average of $500 a month, which we don’t usually hit as a family of two adults and two kids under 4.

Overall highlights of this card include:

  • Get $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. You will receive $150 back in the form of a statement credit.
  • 6% Cash Back at US stand-alone supermarkets up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
  • 3% Cash Back on gasoline at at US stand-alone gas stations
  • 3% Cash Back at select major US department stores
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit. Cash back is earned only on eligible purchases.

Supermarkets details. “US stand-alone supermarkets” means that superstores, convenience stores and warehouse clubs are NOT considered supermarkets. This means no Super Wal-Mart, no Super Target, no Costco. Examples of merchants that count (and this is not a complete list!!) are Meijer, Vons, Whole Food, Winn-Dixie, and online supermarkets such as FreshDirect.

Gasoline details. “US stand-alone gas stations” means that superstores, supermarkets, and warehouse clubs that sell gasoline are NOT considered gas stations. This means no Target, no Costco, no Sam’s Club. Examples of merchants that count (and this is not a complete list!!) are Exxon, Mobil, Hess, Shell, Gulf, Murphy USA, Murphy Express.

Major US Department stores details. These are the only stores that qualify:

• Bealls
• Belk
• Bloomingdale’s
• Bon Ton Stores
• Boscov’s
• Century 21 Department Stores
• Dillard’s
• J.C. Penney (JCP)
• Kohl’s
• Lord & Taylor
• Macy’s
• Neiman Marcus
• Nordstrom
• Saks Fifth Avenue
• Sears
• Stein Mart

Annual fee. The card has a $75 annual fee, which is not waived the first year. However, spending just $25 per week at supermarkets at 6% cash back will result in over $75 Reward Dollars per year ($78) to cover the annual fee by itself.

If you spend the max cap of $500 a month at supermarkets, at 6% back that would net you $360 cash back in a year vs. $60 at 1% cash back. Note that you can find gift cards to many popular retailers at your local supermarket these days. We usually try to max out the $6,000 annual limit. We usually spend closer to $100 a week on food groceries, or about $5,000 a year. Then the rest of the annual limit we use to buy gift cards at the end of the year for holiday presents.

There are no rotating categories, no quarterly enrollments, and no point systems to learn. Not that I would mind if they also allow me to earn more than 1%.

The Blue Cash Preferred also has 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. After that, your APR will then be a variable rate, currently 13.24% to 22.24%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors. Balance transfer fee is either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

“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.”