American Express AmEx Everyday and Amex Everyday Preferred Credit Card Review

amexeverydayAmerican Express has just introduced two new rewards credit cards called the AmEx Everyday and AmEx Everyday Preferred. Note that these are NOT the same as the Blue Cash Everyday and Blue Cash Preferred cards. They are worth a look as they offer a unique rewards structure, although it can be a bit tricky to maximize their value. Here is my review and comparison with similar cards.

Both are credit cards that let you carry a balance, as opposed to charge cards that make you pay in full each month. However, they both earn “real” Membership Rewards points just like the traditional Gold or Platinum charge cards. This means the points can be transferred to 17 different airlines including British Airways, Delta, and Hawaiian Airlines and 5 hotel loyalty programs. Otherwise, you can get about 1 cent per point when used with their “Pay with Points” feature or if converted to gift cards (Home Depot, Gap/OldNavy/Banana, Zappos, etc). Here’s how they differ:

AmEx Everyday Credit Card

  • Sign-up bonus: 10,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • 2x Membership Rewards points at US supermarkets (up to $6k in purchases per year), 1x points on other purchases..
  • Possible 20% bonus on points earned. Use your Card 20 or more times on purchases in a billing period and get 20% more points on those purchases (less returns and credits).
  • No annual fee. No annual fee for additional cards.

AmEx Everyday Preferred Credit Card

  • Sign-up bonus: 15,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • 3x Membership Rewards points at US supermarkets (up to $6k in purchases per year), 2x points at US gas stations, 1x points on other purchases.
  • Possible 50% bonus on points earned. Use your Card 30 or more times on purchases in a billing period and get 20% more points on those purchases (less returns and credits).
  • $95 annual fee. No annual fee for additional cards.

In order to maximize your rewards earned, you’ll need to makes 20 purchases on the no annual fee version or 30 for the Preferred version. For most people, that means this card has to be your primary card. Otherwise, you may have to work a little to meet that hurdle. You might buy some small Amazon.com gift codes, take a few extra trips in that self-checkout line, spend some extra time pumping gas, or pay your cell phone bill in small chunks. The good news is that you can track your purchase count easily with the AmEx mobile app designed to work with this card.

Both cards also have a EMV smart chip, but unfortunately foreign transaction fees are not waived. I’m guessing that is because this is an “everyday spending” card and not a “travel rewards” card.

The problem is that in order to maximize the total value of this card, you’ll have to get more than 1 cent of value out of a Membership Rewards point. Because even with the boosts, at 1 cent per point the most value you could earn with the is 2.4% back on groceries (Everyday no annual fee) or 4.5% back on groceries and 3% back on gas (Everyday Preferred $95 annual fee). Yet the existing Blue Cash Everyday card already gets you 3% cash back on groceries and 2% cash back on gas with no annual fee, and the Blue Cash Preferred gets you 6% back on gas and 3% back on gas with a $75 annual fee.

However, if you can get around 1.5 cents of of value out of a Membership Rewards point by converting it to airline miles, this card becomes better than the Blue Cash cards. The numbers then work out to 3.6% back and 6.75% back on groceries, respectively. That’s pretty solid. (Break-even value is 1.25-1.33 cents per point.) So while it is not marketed as a travel rewards card, it is really only best for people who can redeem their points efficiently via airline miles. Make sense? :)

Discover It Card Review: Improved, 5% Cash Back Categories, Free FICO Score

Discover it 14 Month BT (RED)Scrappy little Discover is trying something bold. They’ve chucked everything and started fresh with only one card – the new Discover it® Card. (Yes, lowercase, don’t ask me why.) No longer promoted are the Discover More, Motiva, Open Road, Escape, and Miles cards.

In fact, you may want to convert your old Discover card to this one. The new card is a definite improvement over the old products, with many positive changes in direct response to the competition. Here are the highlights:

  • 5% cash back in categories that change each quarter up to the quarterly maximum when you sign up.* Plus, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • New Freeze It(SM) on/off switch lets you prevent new purchases, cash advances and balance transfers. Freeze or unfreeze your account in seconds via our website or mobile app.*
  • 1% flat cashback on all other purchases. Previous cash back cards had an initial tier that only gave you 0.25% cash back on the first $3,000 in purchases, and then 1% after that. They’ve finally matched competitors and went for 1% flat.
  • Free FICO score every month. You get a free official FICO score, updated every month, shown on your billing statement.
  • Late payment forgiveness. There is no late fee for your first late payment, and your APR won’t automatically increase either. You can also pay-by-phone for free, up to midnight Eastern on your due date. We all make mistakes, so this is a nice addition.
  • Human. 100% U.S.-based customer service available any time. Guides a free, personalized online tour to help you get the most rewards for how you use your card. Instead of an intentionally-complicated robot phone tree, you can now select at any time to go straight to a human. I’m a little bummed that this has to be touted as a feature, but sadly it is…
  • No annual fee, no fee for going over your limit.
  • Looks out for you. Since each Discover purchase is monitored. If it’s unusual, you’re alerted by e-mail, phone or text.
  • 0% Intro APR* on purchases and balance transfers for 14 months. Then the variable purchase APR applies, currently 10.99% – 22.99%.  A fee of 3% applies for each balance transferred.
  • No foreign transaction fee. Discover is not accepted very widely in Europe, although it works anywhere you see the Diners Club International Logo. However, it is one of the best cards for Asia, especially China and Japan. You can use your Discover anywhere you see a China Union Pay, JCB, or Diners Club International logo.
  • Silly things. Things that shouldn’t matter, but still might. The card arrives via UPS/FedEx mail in a sleek-looking box. The card front is made to look like brushed stainless steel with no raised embossing – your name and card number are only on the back. I wonder where they got that idea?

Is it really a game-changer? Well, no. It’s not quite “one card to rule them all”, but it does combine the good bits from several other popular cards (Chase Sapphire, Chase Freedom, Citi Simplicity) to create a competitive offering. I like the 5% categories that are usually pretty broad and useful.

Discover is still the underdog to American Express/Visa/Mastercard, but it has its own perks. There are bonuses above cash back value for certain gift card redemptions. Their ShopDiscover cashback portal also often has the highest percentages for online shopping merchants, like 10% at Sears, better than eBates and such. Finally, Discover card has a lot of consumer features like return protection and an extended warranty that extends the manufacturer’s warranty for up to an extra year.

Basically, this Discover card is certainly improved and a worthwhile addition to your wallet, although rewards geeks like myself probably won’t it the only card in our wallets. 😉

Existing cardholders. I have not gotten any communication from Discover that my existing cards will be converted to an “it” card automatically. Readers report that if you call them up, they will convert you to the new card manually for free. You get to keep your same card number and thus credit history. Certain people with annual fee miles-type cards or those doing a 0% balance transfer promotion may prefer to stay, but again I think this card is definitely better than the plain Discover and Discover More cards.

“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.”

Navy Federal Credit Union No Balance Transfer Fee Promotion 2014

navyfedlogoNavyFed Credit Union has a limited-time promotion going on until Sunday, April 20th where if you do a balance transfer from an external financial institutions to your existing Navy Federal card, you’ll get a fixed 0% promo APR for 12 months with no balance transfer fee. It is unclear if this offer is targeted to specific e-mail recipients as it is not mentioned on the home page, but I’d definitely call in and ask if interested.

Membership eligibility for NavyFed is primarily restricted to military personnel including Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force – including retirees and family members – but also includes some civilian employees in the Department of Defense. Similar previous offers from NavyFed have used “existing” in their terms to suggest that new credit card applications are ineligible, but that wording does not appear on this offer.

There has never been a better time to consolidate your high rate balance to your Navy Federal Credit Card. You’ll save more, thanks to no balance transfer fees1 and a 0% fixed intro APR2 on balance transfers for 12 months. After that, a variable rate between 7.99% APR and 18% APR applies.1

This is a solid offer as it has been harder to find a no balance transfer fee 0% APR offer these days even though interest rates are still relatively low. However, you’ll note that Chase is not mentioned in their little balance transfer fee comparison chart as the Slate® from Chase is also currently available with a 0% introductory APR on both balance transfers and purchases for 15 months with $0 balance transfer fee and $0 annual fee. All you have to do is initiate your balance transfer within 60 days of opening the account.

Either way, both cards are good opportunities to lower the interest rate on your existing balances and accelerate any debt payoff plans.

Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express Card Review – 2% Flat Cash Back

fidoamexIf you’re looking for a solid cash back card and are willing to open a Fidelity account (or are an existing customer), then you should really consider the credit card offerings from Fidelity, especially the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express Card.

This card earns a flat 2% cash back on purchases, as long as you deposit the money into an eligible account at Fidelity:

  • Fidelity Cash Management Account
  • Fidelity Brokerage account
  • Fidelity-managed 529 account
  • Fidelity Retirement account (IRA, Roth IRA, SEP-IRA, Rollover IRA)

Once your 2% rewards balance goes over $50, it will automatically deposit into your linked Fidelity account. I used to have my money go into a Fidelity 529; I think their investment options are okay but not the best, but this way you won’t spend your rewards on something frivolous. However, these days I just have it deposit into my brokerage account so I can invest it. An IRA would be too confusing for me due to the stringent IRS contribution limit rules. (If you’ve maxed out the limit, they say that they will automatically defer the rebate until the next year. But what if you have a partially phased-out limit due to income, and your limit is reduced to $2,350? How would they know that?)

In terms of catches, it’s mostly that you have to open an extra Fidelity account if you don’t have one already. It appears that the Fidelity Cash Management account has no opening minimum, but if you want to make some trades the Fidelity brokerage account you will need $2,500 to open that (no ongoing minimum balance requirement). I would open your Fidelity account first to make sure you have no issues.

Note also that the rewards only come in $50 increments:

Customers earn 2 points for each $1 in net retail purchases. Once you reach 5,000 points, they can be redeemed automatically or on demand for cash at a 1% exchange rate into an eligible Fidelity account (i.e. 5,000 points = $50 deposit).

So a $49 rewards balance = $0 in your pocket. It will roll over each month until the balance goes above $50, when the entire thing (i.e. $62.54) will arrive in your Fidelity account. Then the $50 hurdle kicks back in. So it is a little harder to time a cash out of your remaining balance if you wanted to close the account (but why would you?).

Finally, it is an AmEx and not a Visa/Mastercard, but I’ve found the number of merchants accepting American Express much improved since 10 years ago although there are still gaps in areas like utilities, insurance, and small mom & pop restaurants and stores.

But really, with no annual fee, this card and the Citi Double Cash card have raised the bar for a “basic” rewards card to 2% cash back at the very minimum.

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

arrival2xnew

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.
  • 0% intro APR for 12 months for each Balance Transfer made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR currently 14.99% or 18.99%, depending on your creditworthiness.
  • 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
  • Redeem your miles for travel statement credits – redemptions start at 2,500 miles for $25 toward travel purchases made in the last 120 days
  • 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® Credit 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.

  • Barclaycard Arrival Plus(TM) World Elite MasterCard®

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

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

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:

discoverchevron

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

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!

paypalpre2

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:

paypalpre

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.

Target Offers Free Credit Monitoring & Identity Theft Protection

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

UpdateThis offer is now EXPIRED

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

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

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. :)