Amazon Store Card Review: 5% Back on Amazon Purchases with Prime

amazonstoreA few readers have asked my opinions of the Amazon Store Card, a retail card issued by Synchrony Bank. You can only use it to buy things at Amazon.com – note the lack of a logo from Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or American Express. This is a separate product from the Amazon.com Rewards Visa Card (3% back at Amazon), which is a credit card issued by Chase that you can use anywhere that Visa is accepted. The key benefits of the Amazon Store Card are:

  • 5% Back for Amazon Prime members. Amazon Prime members are automatically upgraded to the Amazon Prime Store Card and can earn 5% back on all Amazon.com purchases.
  • No annual fee.

There are also financing offers, that come with the card, similar to retailer cards from Home Depot or Lowe’s.

  • No interest if paid in full within 6 months on any purchase totaling $149 or more. Interest will be charged to your account from the purchase date if the promotional balance is not paid in full within 6 months. Minimum monthly payments required.
  • No interest if paid in full within 12 months on any purchase totaling $599 or more. Interest will be charged to your account from the purchase date if the promotional balance is not paid in full within 12 months. Minimum monthly payments required.
  • No interest if paid in full within 24 months on select items sold by Amazon.com. Items sold by third parties do not qualify. Interest will be charged to your account from the purchase date if the promotional balance is not paid in full within 24 months. Minimum monthly payments required and may pay off purchase before end of promo period.
  • 12 Month Equal Pay Offer: 0% APR until paid in full. 12 equal monthly payments required.

As with those home improvement offers, you have to watch out for the balloon interest payment at the end. If you don’t pay in full, you will get charged back-dated interest starting back from the purchase date and not the end of the promo period. This credit line charges a variable interest rate based on the Prime Rate. The current Variable purchase APR is 26.24%. Yikes.

Commentary. So why don’t I mention the Amazon Store Card all the time? My rule of thumb is that a “hard” credit check can reliably net me at least $500 in value, usually from “try me! try me!” credit card incentives. It is very rare that I shop at any specific retailer enough to get $500 in savings. For example, it would take $10,000 of Amazon purchases at 5% back to net me $500 in cash back.

At the same time, 5% rotating category credit cards often have Amazon or a place that sells Amazon gift cards as an eligible category. Other cards like the American Express Blue Cash Preferred offer 6% back at grocery stores (that sell Amazon gift cards) or Chase Ink Business cards offer 5% back at office supply stores (that sell Amazon gift cards). Basically, there are other ways that I can stock up on Amazon gift cards at 5% off without having this card.

If you are a loyal Prime member that spends a lot of money at Amazon and prefer simplicity, then this card can make sense. The 5% off is automatic with your bill, and you get to easily track how much your Amazon habit is costing you. You’ll also want to be the type that either pays your bills in full or is great at navigating the fine print on financing opportunities. 26% APR interest is scary.

How To Stop Balance Transfer Checks from Chase, Citibank, Capital One, Etc.

mailbox‘Tis the season for a mailbox full of catalogs and credit card balance transfer checks. (Hint: There is a connection between the two.) If you want these “access” checks to stop, you just have to ask. You simply call them up (see back of credit card) or go online into their Live Chat or Secure Message systems and ask them.

In the past, I didn’t mind the checks as I wanted the opportunity to get money at 0% APR with no balance transfer fee. However, given the current low interest rates and the fact that nearly all of them have balance transfer fees, I’d rather just have less paper to shred. The wording isn’t particularly important, but you can just copy and paste this if you’d like:

Dear Credit Card Issuer,

I am writing to request that balance transfer and/or purchase access checks no longer be sent to me via mail. I would like for this preference to be applied across all of my credit card accounts.

Thank you,

Your Customer

Here are my successful results after online inquiries to Capital One, Chase, and Citibank. I didn’t have to call anyone.

Citibank. Via their Secure Message system:

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Chase. Via their Secure Message system:

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Capital One. I did this one via live chat. In retrospect, rather than waiting around for all the back and forth, it was probably easier to just send off a secure message and wait for the confirmation reply. Below is an excerpt of the chat.

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If you don’t want any unsolicited offers for new credit cards sent to you, you can also enroll at OptOutPrescreen.com. This is not the same situation as above, because if you already have a relationship they can send you junk until you opt out.

American Express Small Business Saturday 2016

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This year, Small Business Saturday will be on November 26th, 2016. Although it was started in 2010 by American Express on the Saturday after Thankgsiving, since 2011 this day has been officially recognized by Congress.

As was the case last year, there will be no flat statement credits in 2016 for shopping at a small business. Instead, American Express is offering double points or double cash back through the end of 2016 for shopping at small businesses from now until December 31st, 2016. You must register here first. Find local, participating small businesses on their Shop Small map.

The 2X promotion works these various flavors of American Express. When you use your enrolled Card at small businesses:

  • Membership Rewards cards will earn 1 additional Membership Rewards point per dollar spent.
  • Delta Skymiles cards will earn 1 additional mile per dollar spent.
  • Blue Cash cards will earn an additional 1% back per dollar spent.
  • Blue Sky cards will earn 1 additional Blue Sky point per dollar spent.
  • Hilton Honors cards will earn 3 additional Hilton HHonors points per dollar spent.
  • Starwood Preferred Guest cards will earn 1 additional Starpoint per dollar spent.
  • Plenti cards will earn 1 additional Plenti point per dollar spent.
  • Schwab Investor cards will earn an additional 1.5% cash back per dollar spent.

Rewards cap applies; 2X Rewards valid on up to $100,000 in purchases per enrolled consumer card and $250,000 in purchases per enrolled business card.

American Express has also been adding a lot of new offers – including local small businesses! – to their AmEX Special Offers. Log into your account online and see what you have targeted in your area. You may also see 10% off your cable or Satellite TV bill, 10% off your cellular phone bill, $25 off Verizon Wireless, $20 off $100 at Staples.com, or double/triple points at merchants like Amazon, Target, and Home Depot.

If you have a small business and accept American Express but aren’t shown on on their Shop Small map, here’s how to get yourself added:

Please contact the Shop Small Team at 1-800-235-8916, Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, EST and have your federal tax ID handy. We look forward to hearing from you!

Participating small businesses can also sign up for additional marketing materials here.

This Fortune article discusses the positive impact that American Express’s statement credits from 2010-2014 had on small businesses after the 2009 recession. It felt good that this promotion supported independent retailers, whereas most promotions go towards the big chains. Small Business Saturday was also a clever way for American Express to tell the public that they’ve increased acceptance of their cards at small businesses, which has always been their relative weak spot due to their slightly higher fees for the merchant.

[Read more…]

FreeCreditReport.com Review: Free Experian Credit Report Every Month, No Credit Card Required

freecreditreport0Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, has bought the domain FreeCreditReport.com and converted it to a place where consumers can view their Experian Credit Report for free. There is no credit card required, no trial membership required. Like most of its competitors, “free” does mean that you’ll see advertisements and offers for paid premium features. Checking your own credit will not hurt your credit scores.

All things equal, why not get your credit reports “straight from the source”? If I get my Experian data directly from Experian, that means one less third-party that may have access to my personal information. (I admit, I do sign up for a lot of such sites anyway, and I signed up for this one as well.) Here’s a screenshot (click to enlarge):

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Sign-up process. You will need to provide your personal information like name, address, birthdate, and Social Security Number. You’ll also need to verify your identity by answering some multiple-choice questions based on your credit report data.

I’m okay with some unobtrusive ads and upsells in exchange for free monthly credit reports. I have not tried any of their paid premium features. I did notice that when you sign up, it is not mandatory to sign up for their special offers. You can still proceed even if you uncheck the box.

How can I refresh my report? You can refresh your Experian credit report as often as every 30 days, but only if you log in to the website. Many sites operate this way, as it reduces their costs of grabbing your score if you are no longer interested. Also, they want you to log in so that they can show you advertisements.

Bottom line. FreeCreditReport.com is legit, owned by Experian, and offers free access to your Experian credit report. Experian already has all your information anyway. No credit card is required. Being able to get an updated report every 30 days is more frequent than other options.

See also: Get a free copy of your TransUnion credit report (another of the three major credit bureaus) through the TransUnion-owned site called TrueIdentity.

True Identity Review: Free Unlimited TransUnion Credit Reports, Free Credit Lock, No Credit Card Required

trueidentity0TrueIdentity by TransUnion is a new identity protection website that is free with no credit card required and no trial memberships. The highlights:

  • Free TransUnion credit reports. Unlimited reports and refreshes.
  • Free Credit Lock feature. Stop access to your TransUnion report with a single swipe or click.
  • Free instant alerts. Includes alerts for new accounts, inquiries or address changes.
  • Free mobile app. Android and iOS.

I decided to sign up and dig around. Here’s a screenshot of the main dashboard (click to enlarge):

trueidentity1

Free TransUnion credit report details. A partial screenshot of my report page is below. As one of the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion already has all your other personal information. I’m glad they let me see it for free. Note that you’ll have to pay to see reports from the other two credit bureaus, Equifax and Experian (see below). The report is free and current, although I can’t seem to find how often you are allowed to refresh your report.

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Free Credit Lock feature details. When you credit report is “locked”, it can’t be accessed by creditors, landlords, or employers. If they ask for it, their request will be denied. Credit Lock appears to be another layer created by TransUnion that is separate from a formal credit freeze (which I believe is regulated by law). A credit freeze is free only if you are already a victim of identity theft, otherwise it costs a fee and you often have to call in to get it lifted. I believe the requests must be submitted during the following times for immediate processing:

Monday-Saturday, 2 a.m.-11 p.m. Central Time
Sunday, 5 a.m.-11 p.m. Central Time

During these times (only a 3 hour gap around midnight during weekdays), the credit lock is pretty much instant (they warn that it may take up to 5 minutes). Therefore, you can theoretically keep your TransUnion report locked at all times, and then lift that lock just minutes before you actually apply for a loan or credit card. That’s my plan. Here’s a screenshot of my post-lock page:

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Free instant alerts details. You can pick from instant e-mail or SMS text alerts. I believe there are alerts via the mobile app as well. They will e-mail you weekly or monthly to confirm that you have no new alerts.

If it’s free, how will TransUnion make money? First, you will see ads for credit products (much like similar credit-related sites). Second, you can upgrade to their TrueIdentity Premium tier, which costs $9.99 a month and adds the following features:

  • TransUnion credit score (VantageScore 3.0).
  • Credit report data from the other two credit bureaus, Equifax and Experian.
  • Phone access to Identity Restoration & Lost Wallet Specialists with up to 1,000,000 in Identity Theft Insurance.
  • Premium alerts which monitor additional databases including black market websites, courtroom records, and payday loan databases.

Bottom line. TrueIdentity by TransUnion offers some handy features for the excellent price of free. No trials, no credit card required. You might be able to get your TransUnion credit report data elsewhere, but the real-time Credit Lock feature is unique. You’ll have to upgrade to $9.99 a month for features like cash insurance or an army of helpers to guide you if you do become a victim of identity theft. But again, there is no need to upgrade, ever.

What Cards Are In My Wallet? 2006 vs. 2016 Flashback Edition

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What’s in my wallet? Besides trying to land at least $500 on new sign-ups, which cards do I end up using on a regular basis? Apparently, the last time I answered this question was in 2006, more than a decade ago?! Let’s see if I have made any improvements since then. These are the cards that work best for my spending patterns and redemption preferences.

All-around cash back rewards card.

  • 2006: MBNA/Fidelity Investments 529 College Rewards Card. I still have this card, although it is in sock drawer mode now. This Fidelity-branded card went from being issued by MBNA, to FIA Cardservices (subsidiary of Bank of America), now to Elan Financial services. The 2% rewards did help me rack up over $8,000 in tax-deferred college savings (including appreciation from investments).
  • 2016: BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card. After moving over $100,000 of existing index funds from Vanguard and qualifying for their Platinum Honors tier, this enabled me to earn 2.625% cash back on all my purchases – redeemed as a statement credit offsetting any travel purchase. That’s a 31% improvement on 2% rewards. If you don’t have $100k in assets to move over, 2% is still double the 1% many cards give on all purchases – I have the Citi Double Cash card as backup.

Category-specific rewards credit card.

  • 2006: Citi Dividend Platinum Select Mastercard. This card is no longer available to new applicants, which is probably why the 5% categories got rather stale. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I stopped using it so long that Citi closed it due to inactivity. Whoops! It was one of my older cards, but not a big loss as I have so many other cards to contribute to my “average age of accounts” stat.
  • 2016: Chase Freedom Visa and Discover It Card. This quarter, the Chase Freedom is giving 5% cash back at Costco, Sam’s Club, Walgreens, and CVS ($1,500 total). The Discover It card is giving me 5% cash back at Amazon.com. Overall, I think recent competition has made the 5% categories more useful. Note that Chase Freedem technically earns Ultimate Rewards points, which can provide even higher value when redeemed for points/miles (see below).

Points or miles rewards card.

  • 2006: Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card. Still a good card overall (we’ll see how the merger changes things). If you redeem in 20,000 point increments, it will provide 1.25 miles per dollar spent for a variety of airline programs. However, I don’t travel as much as I used to, and even at a 2 cents per mile valuation, that’s only 2.5% back on value (more than 2%, but less than the 2.625% above). SPG does not transfer 1:1 to United. I don’t travel for business much these days so I can’t rack up SPG points for hotel stays as quickly anymore, and I also don’t need this card to keep my stash of SPG points active and useful.
  • 2016: Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This card gives 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining out. Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to both United and Hyatt, for some solid redemption value. If you value at 2 cents per UR points, that’s 4% back value. I also need this card to keep all of my Ultimate Rewards stash active and available to transfer to the various airline and hotel partners. (I also earn UR points elsewhere from Chase Freedom, Ink business card, and their shopping portal.) If you haven’t had 5 new credit cards in the last 24 months, you should check out the Chase Sapphire Reserve card as well.

ATM Debit card.

  • 2006: Bank of America ATM card. I still have this account, but got tired of how BofA pays no interest and charges you money to initiate a transfer out. If I have to use a online bank as a transfer hub all the time, I’m just going to make that hub my primary account.
  • 2016: Ally Bank ATM card. These days, it’s a lot easier to do all of your banking at an online bank with no branches. Mobile deposit with smartphone camera is much easier than scanner. ATM rebates allow me to use any ATM, and up to $10 per statement cycle in rebates is enough for me (Allpoint ATM network is free and doesn’t count towards limit). 1% APY on savings account, which serves as free overdraft source for checking. Their app is solid, I can easily imitate interbank funds transfers (and I can login with just my thumbprint).

So the overall theme of what goes in my wallet has stayed the same, but the players have around changed a bit.

Navy Federal Visa Signature Flagship Rewards Credit Card: 30,000 Bonus Points, 0% APR No Balance Transfer Fee Offer

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NavyFed Credit Union has brought back the sign-up bonus on their premium rewards credit card, the Navy Federal Visa Signature Flagship Rewards Credit Card. Taken altogether, the sign-up bonus and the low intro balance transfer rate are quite competitive. The highlights:

  • Earn 30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 within the first 90 days of opening a new card. 30,000 points can be redeemed for a $300 statement credit towards the purchase of any flight on any major airline.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months with no balance transfer fee. After that, a variable APR between 10.24% and 18% applies.
  • Earn 2 points per net dollar spent.
  • No limit on the points you can earn; points never expire.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee for the first year, $49 thereafter.

The “catch” is that in order to apply, you must first become a credit union member. Membership eligibility for NavyFed is primarily restricted to those who currently or have ever been affiliated with the Armed Forces, DoD, Coast Guard or National Guard, those with a family member who has those affiliations, or those with a family or household member who is a NFCU member.

This is a solid offer as it has been harder to find a no fee 0% APR balance transfer offer these days even though interest rates are still relatively low. (Other NFCU cards have no balance transfer fee, but only at a much higher APR, not 0% interest.) For example, doing a balance transfer of $10,000 with a 3% balance transfer fee would add up to $300 already. Add in the $300 value sign-up bonus, and you’re already up to $600 total value in the first year. Transfer a higher balance, and the benefit increases further. NavyFed has a reputation for being generous with credit limits, with $50,000 or $80,000 limits not out of the ordinary.

In terms of competition, the Slate Card from Chase is also currently available with a 0% intro APR for 15 months with no balance transfer fee on both balance transfers and purchases and no annual fee. You must initiate your balance transfer within 60 days of opening the account.

Both cards are good opportunities to lower the interest rate on your existing balances and accelerate any debt payoff plans. You can even pay off student loans.

Plastiq: Pay Tuition, Rent, or Taxes With Credit Card or Debit Card

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New promo. Plastiq has a new promotional rate if you schedule at least six rent or mortgage payments with American Express (2.25%) or Mastercard (1.75%). You must schedule them by October 31, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. PT.

Schedule 6 or more payments, and schedule them as far into the future as you’d like.
-Remember to click “Set Payment Schedule” and not “Review & Pay Now”
-The only limit is your credit card’s expiration date
Make sure those payments are for rent or mortgage
Use a MasterCard OR American Express
Do it before October 31, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. PT

The rates aren’t awesome, but some of you may eek out some gains, especially if you need help with a sign-up bonus hurdle. This is likely in response to their competitor RadPad abruptly ending their rent processing system with no warning (boo).

Original post:

Plastiq.com lets you pay bills and invoices with a credit or debit card, even if they don’t usually accept them. The standard service fee is 2.5% for credit cards and 1% for Visa and MasterCard debit cards. However, they run limited-time promotion with lower fees. They will charge your card and send out a paper check to the payee (direct bank transfers to a few), so you’d want to plan ahead for any snail mail delays. They recommend 10 business days to be safe. More ideas from their site:

  • Rent or Mortgage
  • Homeowners Association (HOA) dues
  • Tuition
  • Childcare costs
  • Buying a car, RV, or ATV
  • Income or business taxes

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(Note: This was only an example given during a 1.5% fee promotion. The current fee may be higher or lower.) Why would I want to pay a 1.5% service fee?

Sign-up bonus spending requirements. Sign-up bonuses often having spending requirements. For example, you might get a $500 value bonus but need to spend $5,000. Well, that’s effectively 10% back so if you need a little help to get over that hurdle, it’s okay to pay a 1.5% fee. Here are some recent cards with big $500 value bonuses but also spending requirements:

2% cash back credit cards, or similar. If you have a rewards credit card that offers 2% cash back (or equivalent value in points), then you can still make a slight profit by putting them on your credit card. A current example is the Citi Double Cash Card. For example, if you have a tuition bill or tax bill of $5,000 and you earned 2% cash back while paying a 1.5% fee, your net 0.5% is $25.

Combine a rewards card + 0% APR on purchases. Many credit cards offer 0% APR on purchases for an introductory period of 12 months or longer. If the card also has a half-decent rewards program on purchases, the combination of purchase rewards and spreading out the payments over a year at no interest could be attractive.

Platinum Delta Skymiles American Express Companion Certificate

amexdeltaplatThe Delta American Express card line-up has some limited-time bonus bumps going on right now. Offer ends 11/9/16. In particular, I noticed that the Platinum Delta American Express is offering:

  • 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. If you care about elite status, you’ll get 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) as well (not actual redeemable miles).
  • In addition, earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
  • First bag checked free.
  • Enjoy a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card.
  • $195 annual fee, not waived the first year.

As with all American Express cards, the sign-up bonus is now only one per card per lifetime. If you’ve ever had this card, you can’t get the sign-up bonus again:

Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have or have had this product.

The companion certificate as deal-maker and deal-breaker. Frequent fliers often complain about Delta’s poor selection in international business-class redemptions, but some people (like me) just want economy seats to a Delta-served airport. If you regularly travel as a couple or otherwise buy two cross-country domestic economy tickets together on Delta, this companion certificate will easily offset the $195 annual fee all by itself. If you are wasting this free companion ticket, then this card probably won’t be worth keeping around. The paid tickets earn miles, MQDs, and MQMs, but the free ticket does not.

Note that you only earn the certificate upon renewal, so you won’t get it the first year and that means you’ll have paid $390 in annual fees by then. So the first year’s annual fee of $195 must be offset by the sign-up bonus. The limited-time offer of $100 statement credit + 70,000 Skymiles should do the trick, assuming you make decent use of the miles. With the Pay with Miles options, you should get at minimum a 1 cent a mile value. That would make it $100 + $700 – $195 annual fee = $605 value in the first year. For future years, you’ll need to get $200 value out of that companion certificate.

Geographical restrictions. If you live in the contiguous 48 states, you must travel roundtrip to/from the contiguous 48 states. If you live in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico or the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), then you can originate there to the contiguous 48.

You must pay applicable taxes and fees, which vary and depend upon the number of flight segments included in the itinerary. They will be no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments).

You can book your Delta flights using the certificate online without having to call in. In my experience, the class restrictions on the certificate have not prevented me from getting the lowest fare available, although it can happen. If I can get a $300 ticket for $25 in fees, then I still consider this card worth it given the other perks like one free checked bag per person. If I don’t use it myself, I can also book a flight for a friend/relative and have them pay me back in cash.

Example with screenshots. I have a live companion certificate in my account right now, and I just ran a test flight. Atlanta (ATL) to San Francisco (SFO), 11/23 to 11/30 roundtrip, flights DL 1401 outbound and flight DL 939 return. If I just searched for a single cash ticket, it would have cost $318.70. Two tickets would be $637.40. If I apply the companion certificate, the first ticket again costs $318.70 and the second ticket costs $0 + $28.20 in fees. The first paid ticket costs the exact same amount as it would have otherwise. Thus, my total savings with this certificate is $318.70 – $28.20 = $290.50. See screenshot below for details:

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Here’s a copy of the terms and conditions regarding the companion certificate:

Delta Platinum Companion Certificate at Renewal
Taxes/fees/restrictions: Companion Certificate is valid for one round-trip Main Cabin Companion ticket with the payment of applicable taxes and fees detailed below and the purchase of certain adult round-trip fares on published routings within the 48 contiguous United States. Residents of Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico or the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) must originate from there to the 48 contiguous United States and have an address on their SkyMiles account in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico or the USVI. Each year, the Companion Certificate will be made available for redemption on delta.com in your renewal month. Applicable government imposed taxes and fees vary and depend upon the number of flight segments included in the itinerary and are no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments). Basic Card Members (not Additional Card Members) with the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, Delta Reserve Credit Card, Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card, Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card, and Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card are eligible to receive the first checked bag fee waiver on Delta and Delta Connection carrier tickets. $35 fee for second checked bag. These allowances are subject to size/weight limits. Contact a Delta agent or visit delta.com for details. Taxes and fees are subject to change, are the responsibility of the passenger and must be paid at the time the primary ticket is purchased and the Companion ticket is issued. All fare rules, restrictions, advance purchase requirements, and availability are per rule of primary ticket fare purchased. Seats are only available in L,U,T,X,V classes of service and may not be available on all flights or markets. Companion tickets are not transferable once issued. Companion certificate cannot be combined with another offer or discount including, but not limited to, web fares, sale fares and eCoupons. Primary ticket and Companion ticket must be purchased with your Delta SkyMiles Credit Card. Both passengers must be booked on the same flights and dates, at the same time. Travel for Companion certificate must be booked and completed by the date on the front of certificate. Validity is not based on the calendar year. Redemption is available only on delta.com. Certificate terms and conditions may vary each year of Card Membership. Additional restrictions apply. See Companion Certificate for details.

Marriott / Starwood Hotels Merger: Status Match, New Points Transfer Options

mr_spg2Marriott completed its acquisition of Starwood Hotels last week, and has already started the merging process for their loyalty rewards programs. Both programs will essentially be run separately for a while, but you can now match status and exchange points. The new name is Marriott International, although a full merger will not be completed until sometime in 2018. Here’s a quick summary of your options:

Manually link your Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Marriott Rewards (MR) accounts at this Starwood page or this Marriott page. They will not be linked automatically. You can only link one MR account to one SPG account (and vice versa), so you’ll need to merge any duplicate accounts first.

If you are an elite member of one program, your status will be matched in the other program. SPG Preferred Plus = Marriott Silver. SPG Gold = Marriott Gold. SPG Platinum = Marriott Platinum.

You can transfer points both ways with no fees. 3 Marriott points = 1 SPG point. You can transfer up to the full balance of your account in increments of 1,000 points into the linked account. Ex. 1,000 Marriott points = 333 SPG points. 1,000 SPG points = 3,000 SPG points. Transfers should be instantaneous.

Points transfer and expirations. Transferring into Starwood will help extend your Starwood points expiration, but transferring into Marriott will not help your Marriott points expiration. If your Marriott points are really going to expire soon, just move them all over to Starwood? Taken directly from their Frequently Asked Questions:

If I transfer points from my Rewards account to SPG, does it count as activity against points expiration?
Transfers don’t count as a qualifying activity in the Rewards program, so transferring points won’t keep your points balance from expiring.

If I transfer points from my SPG account to Rewards, does it count as activity against points expiration?
SPG Starpoints don’t expire as long as your account remains active. Linking and transfers count as activity.

Possible new transfer options. You can now mix and match the various external partners to get improved or previously-impossible transfer options, including:

  • 60,000 Marriott points = 20,000 SPG points = 25,000 American, Hawaiian, Delta, or Alaska Airlines miles.
  • 18,667 Starwood points = 56,000 Marriott points = 25,000 United Airlines miles.
  • 90,000 Starwood points = 270,000 Marriott points = 120,000 Southwest points and 7 nights in a Marriott category 1-5 hotel. Why is this handy? Earning 110,000 Southwest Airlines points in one year will get you the Southwest Airlines Companion pass which lets you choose a friend to fly with you for free – for this year and the next! – your paid or points-redemption tickets. (If you want to do this, do it quickly, as this option may end prematurely…)

Credit card considerations. Given the 3:1 ratio, Chase Marriott card now has bigger relative sign-up bonus, but SPG American Express has earns more rewards on all everyday purchases.

  • Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card can get you 80,000 + 7,500 Marriott points if you meet the purchase hurdle. 87,500 Marriott points = 29,166 Starwood points.
  • Starwood Preferred American Express can get you 25,000 Starwood points if you meet the purchase hurdle. You’ll also get 1 Starwood point per dollar spent = 3 Marriott points per dollar spent on all purchases.

Pay Your Rent with Credit Card With No Fees With RadPad and Android Pay

Update: This offer was ended early, basically saying they had to break their word because they were faced with huge losses. Not a well-run promotion.

radpad0With a new promotion by RadPad and Android Pay, you can pay your rent with a credit card (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) and earn points/miles/cash rewards through the end of 2016. Your landlord will simply receive a check on your behalf from RadPad.

Android Pay requires an NFC-enabled Android device running KitKat 4.4+ and the Android Pay app. A partial list includes LG G4, LG G5, HTC One M9, HTC 10, Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, Samsung Galaxy S6 and S7, and Moto X. Here is a 3rd-party list of NFC-enabled phones.

You must log into Pay with Radpad from an Android device or use the RadPad app, and then pay using Android Pay.

radpadand1

If you have a compatible phone, this promo seems like an easy way to rack up some extra frequent flier miles or satisfy a bonus requirement. You can schedule payments ahead of time if you wish. The standard fee is otherwise 3.49% for credit cards and free for debit cards. (You can now search for an apartment, sign your lease using Docusign, and pay rent using your debit card for free, all through Radpad.)

New Fidelity Rewards Visa Credit Card Review: 2% Flat Cash Back

new_usbank_fido_visa_200Updated with new info for both new and existing customers. Fidelity has (mostly) converted their rewards credit card line-up to a single version – a Visa Signature issued by Elan Financial Services (subsidiary of US Bank). For new customers, the new Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card will receive a flat 2% cash back when directed to an eligible Fidelity Investments account. Here is a different link which includes a $100 bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days. Here are the new card highlights:

  • Unlimited 2% cash back, when redeemed into an eligible Fidelity account.
  • No annual fee.
  • Visa Signature benefits, like Concierge service.
  • Chip-enabled and works with Apple, Android, and Samsung Pay.

Eligible Fidelity accounts. The 2% rewards value applies only to points redeemed for a deposit into the following active Fidelity accounts:

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

Rewards value will be less than 2% cash back if you choose to redeem your points for other rewards such as travel options, merchandise, gift cards, and/or a statement credit.

Points redemption details. You can either choose automatic or manual redemption. With automatic redemption, once you reach $50 of rewards (5,000 points from net spending of $2,500), your balance will be automatically swept into your designated Fidelity account (or split between multiple Fidelity accounts if you wish). You can also redeem your points “on demand” either by calling in or online after you reach the same 5,000 point minimum balance.

Previous FIA Cardservices customers. You should have received your new Elan-issued cards by now, and been told what the new rewards structure is. There is no new credit check. Your credit card number will be different, but the credit card history (like age of account) should continue as before on your credit reports. Your existing rewards balance will be moved over. Re-enroll your card for online account management at FidelityRewards.com. Re-enroll your cards for rewards redemption after logging into your account at Fidelity.com / Credit Card Snapshot / Manage Rewards Points. You will need your Fidelity account numbers.

There was (understandably) some angry existing customers when they were told they would only start at 1.5% cash back and not the 2% cash back offered to new customers. Some reps told existing customers that they would have apply for a new card in order to get the 2%. However, it appears that Fidelity has softened that decision. If you call up the number on the back of your card and ask them, they should upgrade you to 2% cash back without hassle. But it won’t happen automatically; you must call.

Commentary. Overall, this move makes complete business sense. They negotiated terms that could offer a Visa card with 2% cash back without any tiers. Fidelity uses this card to encourage customers to keep all their assets within Fidelity-branded accounts. You could theoretically now have your checking account, credit card, brokerage account, IRA, 401(k), all with Fidelity.

Their previous issuer, FIA Cardservices was owned by Bank of America, which is essentially a direct competitor. You could also have a Bank of America checking account, BofA credit card, Merrill Edge brokerage account, and Merrill Lynch wealth management account under their umbrella. In fact, I recently opened up a Merrill Edge account and moved over $100,000 of assets and received (1) 100 free stock trades a month and (2) an effective 2.625% back towards any travel with the Bank of America Travel Rewards card (my review). I pay no annual account fees on either product.

Elan Financial Services is a subsidiary of US Bank, but they are less of a direct competitor. You won’t see “US Bank” mentioned anywhere on this card. Elan quietly co-brands with many other financial institutions (over 1,400) who want a credit card but don’t want to handle the back-end details.

Bottom line. I believe it remains a solid cash back card for existing Fidelity customers (or those willing to open a Fidelity account). As a self-directed investor, I also like to keep my options open. I have this new Fidelity card, but I don’t use it. I use the Bank of America card mentioned above because it offers higher rewards for my situation. I also have (but don’t currently use) the Citi Double Cash card (my review) because it is a similarly solid card with no annual fee (and doesn’t require any companion account).

Why do I have all three? My experience is that good credit cards may stop taking new applicants with no prior notice, but as an existing customer you can often continue to receive grandfathered benefits for a long time. I’ve had some version of this Fidelity co-branded card earning 2% cash back since 2004. They also all have no annual fee.