Free BJ’s Club Membership for American Express Cardholders (New Customers)

bjlogoIf you are an American Express cardholder, they have a promotion with BJ’s Wholesale Clubs that will essentially net you a free 1-year membership if you are a new BJ’s customer. The membership is discounted 50% down to $25, and then you also get a $25 gift card. Here are details taken from this PDF with promotion terms (backup copy).

Here’s how to redeem the new membership offer from BJ’s by September 30, 2016:

  1. Show your American Express Card and photo identification at a BJ’s Club Member Services Desk and present this confirmation (or show the saved coupon on your phone).
  2. Purchase a new 12-month BJ’s Inner Circle® or InnerCircle® Business Membership to get 50% off the regular price ($25 off the $50 membership fee, plus state and local taxes, where applicable or required by law) and receive a $25 BJ’s Gift Card.

Some customers have reported being able to use the $25 gift card itself to pay for the $25 membership, but either way it is essentially a free year membership.

Offer valid in-Club only; not valid on BJs.com. Market code AMEX25 expires 9/30/16. This offer may not be combined with other BJ’s membership offers, is not redeemable for cash and is good for new Members only. Market code AMEX25 may not be copied or transferred. Limit one offer per household. Photo identification required when applying for Membership.

Starbucks App: Load $10 with Visa Checkout, Get $10 Bonus

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A recent study found that free pizza was a better motivator than cash. What about free coffee? :)

Starbucks is offering a free $10 bonus Starbucks eGift card if you use the Starbucks smartphone app to load a minimum $10 onto your Starbucks Card using Visa Checkout as your payment method. Details:

First, visit starbucks.com/promo/visacheckout.
Second, use the Starbucks app to load a minimum $10 onto your Starbucks Card using Visa Checkout as your payment method.
You are only eligible to receive one Bonus Load.
You will receive a $10 Starbucks eGift Card to the email address associated with your Starbucks account within 5 business days of the load.

Valid between 9/1/16 and 9/30/16, or while supplies last. Usually if they run out of free codes, they will take down the offer page. However, if you’re interested I’d take advantage of this offer as soon as possible. Qualifying customers will see the $10 Bonus Load in the form of an emailed Starbucks eGift card within 5 days.

Hanscom Federal CU Thrive Review: 3% APY High Interest Starter Account

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Updated with additional $30 bonus. Hanscom Federal Credit Union (HFCU) has a CU Thrive account, which works like a certificate of deposit that rewards consistent saving. The rate is set for 12 months, and during those 12 months you can transfer up to $500 every month from a HFCU checking account. No monthly fees. However, you cannot make any withdrawals during those 12 months, or you will be subject to an early withdrawal penalty of 90 days interest.

This product is not meant for big balances. Instead, it is meant to encourage a modest savings habit. The current interest rate of 3% APY is triple what the top high-yield savings accounts offer right now, and more than double what the top 1-year bank CDs are offering. HFCU is NCUA-insured, which is the credit union equivalent of FDIC-insured banks.

How much interest can I earn? At 3% APY, if you maxed out this account and set aside $500 a month for 12 months, at the end you’d have put in $6,000 and earned about $90 in interest (~$97 if you made every transfer on the 1st of the each month by my quick calculations). Not life-changing, but again federally-insured and triple what you could get at another bank. $6,000 also happens to be just about the same amount as a full Roth IRA contribution. Hint, hint.

At the end of the 12 months, all accrued savings plus earned dividends will be transferred into your primary savings account. Each member can only have one CU Thrive account open at one time, but after one 12-month period ends you can open up another one (assuming it is still offered). Full disclosure (PDF).

Eligibility details. To open a CU Thrive account, you must first open an HFCU checking account in addition to the savings account required for all members. HFCU offers a free checking account with no direct deposit and no minimum balance requirement. To open a checking account, just must be a member. Like most credit unions, membership is open by family, employer, or by membership in a partner organization (which makes it open to nearly everyone). For example, you could join the Nashua River Watershed Association for a one-time $35 fee and thus be eligible for HFCU membership. You must also keep $25 in the share savings account as long as you are a member.

New refer-a-friend program. They have re-activated their referral program, which allows you to join receive an additional $30 cash bonus after being an active member for 90 days. The referring member gets $30 as well. You may still be required to otherwise qualify for membership. I would recommend saying that you plan on joining the Nashua River Watershed Association but also listing yourself as being referred by an existing member. If you would like a referral from me, please me send your full name, e-mail address, the text “HFCU referral” via my contact form. I will use this information only to fill out their referral form.

Account opening process. I started the online application and said I would join the Nashua River Watershed Association for a one-time $35 fee (I didn’t know about the refer-a-friend option at the time). I had to provide the usual personal information and then answer questions based on my credit report to verify my identity. Based on my free credit monitoring, they did not perform a hard pull on my credit report. You can fund with an online bank transfer but they also gave me the option to fund with credit card up to $2,000. They didn’t mention if this would be considered a cash advance or not, but it showed up as a purchase on my American Express card. Finally, you must print out, sign, and mail in a signature card. You can also open an account in-person. All of their physical branches appear to be located in Massachusetts.

My 1-year experience. I had set the maximum $500 to be transferred every month to my CU Thrive account from my HFCU Checking account. I made 11 transfers but missed one because my checking balance was too low on the date of automatic transfer. My fault. When that happens, the account basically just skips the transfer. There is no penalty, you just don’t get to earn interest on that money. I called them but they said there was no way to replace that transfer, even if I moved more money into the checking account a day later. Other than that, everything went very smoothly and I was paid my interest as promised. At the 1-year maturity date, the funds were automatically transferred to my HFCU savings account and the CU Thrive no longer shows up on my online account page. I can now open up another CU Thrive account, if I wish.

I also discovered that Hanscom Federal has paid a Loyalty Dividend to its Credit Union members for over 15 consecutive years. For both 2014 and 2015, they paid a 2% bonus on dividends earned and consumer finance charges paid over the year. So on top my my $78.46 of interest earned, I earned another $1.57 in bonus loyalty dividends.

In addition to the CU Thrive and free checking options, HFCU also has a competitive Home Equity Line of Credit (HELoC) with no application fee, no annual fee, and no closing costs if you keep it open for 24 months. I’m thinking of opening one just to have around, does anyone have experience with this HELOC product?

Bottom line. The CU Thrive account is a good option for people looking to build up a savings habit, with a possible 3% APY for 12 months, $30 sign-up bonus, and free membership eligibility. However, the system really works best if you use HFCU’s free checking as your primary checking account. Juggling it as an external savings account is perfectly possible, but you have to keep on top of your transfers to avoid idle cash earning zero interest. I received all of the interest promised, the customer service was nice and polite when contacted, and any errors were my own.

Free 25 Hertz Gold Plus Points

hertzgp0Hertz has a Summer Bonus promotion with bonus points on your summer car rentals through 9/5/2016. Not much time left, but you can still get 25 free Hertz points just for registering with your Hertz Gold membership number.

Register to earn up to two Free Weekend Days on your summer rentals with Hertz Gold Plus Rewards® from August 9, 2016 through September 5, 2016. You can earn:

275 bonus points on your first qualifying rental
275 points on your second
550 points on your third
That’s 1,100 Gold Plus Rewards points—enough for two Free Weekend Days!

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These points won’t extend your expiration date (you need rental activity every 24 months), but they may get you closer to that next free rental (starts at 550 points for a free weekend day).

US National Park Centennial: Free Admission, Special Events, and Virtual Reality Tours

The National Park Service turned 100 on August 25, 2016. From Thursday 8/25 to Sunday 8/28/16, there will be special events and free admission to all 412 national parks. Visit FindYourPark.com to find details about your nearest park.

The fee waiver includes entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.

If you can’t visit the parks in person (if even if you can), check out “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks”. You’ll see select parks in 360-degree virtual reality thanks to a partnership between the NPS and Google. You can use Google Cardboard for the full experience, but it still very cool on a big screen with headphones. Here’s a one-minute preview video:

Finally, NASA is sharing what the US National Parks look like from the Space Station.

Finally, you may have noticed the Google Doodle of the day, which linked to a neat one-minute animated video below:

Free Educational Apps for Children: Duck Duck Moose

ddm0bIf you’re a parent of young children these days, you’re likely looking to make their screen time active and educational instead of passive. Unfortunately, free apps are often of low quality or severely restricted. Meanwhile, there are some excellent paid apps, but the cost starts adding up quickly at $2 to $10 a pop.

So it was welcome news when non-profit Khan Academy announced that they are partnering with developer Duck Duck Moose and making all of their apps completely free to download with all features. They have won 21 Parent’s Choice awards and 18 Editor’s Choice awards from Children’s Technology Review.

Here are links to all of their Android apps and all of their iPhone / iPad apps. More supposedly are in the works.

There are a lot to choose from, so here are the apps organized by awards won. Here are the Common Sense Media reviews of certain apps.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card Review: 100,000 Points Bonus = $1,500 in Travel, $450 Annual Fee

chasereserve200newChase has a new ultra-premium credit card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, which has headline features of Visa Infinite benefits, 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points sign-up bonus, and a $450 annual fee. That’s a huge sign-up bonus and a big annual fee. Is this expensive travel-focused card designed to compete with the American Express Platinum and Citi Prestige worthy of your attention?

Card highlights:

  • 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • $300 annual travel credit. Each year, automatically receive up to $300 in statement credits as reimbursement for travel purchases such as airfare and hotels charged to your card.
  • Up to a $100 statement credit towards your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee.
  • Priority Pass Select membership. Provides free access to 900+ VIP lounges in over 400 cities worldwide.
  • Earn 3X points per $1 spent on travel & dining worldwide.
  • Earn 1 point for every dollar in other purchases.
  • 1.5 cents per point value when redeemed towards travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 1:1 points transfer to various frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs.
  • Annual fee is $450, not waived the first year. Additional cards are $75 per year, each.

Details on Ultimate Rewards points redemption:

  • Cash rewards. Cash redemptions are a bit ordinary but easy… 100 points = $1.
  • Points redeemed towards travel are worth 1.5 cents when applied towards any hotel, flight, car rental, or cruise available on their travel portal UltimateRewards.com. Redemptions can also be maximized because you can book wherever you want and simply pay the difference. For example, 25,000 points can be used for any ticket up to $375, but if say you wanted a $400 ticket you could just pay the $25 difference. You’re able to use every last point on this program, and you don’t have to worry about room or flight availability.
  • This means the 100,000 point sign-up bonus is worth $1,500 towards any travel booked through Chase.
  • This also means your existing Ultimate Rewards points balance could be increased in value by getting this card.
  • This also means that if you also have the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, you’d be getting 2.25% back on all purchases when redeemed towards travel through Chase.
  • This also means that if you also have the Chase Freedom card, you’d be getting 7.5% back on the quarterly rotating categories when redeemed towards travel through Chase.
  • Points can be converted to frequent flyer miles a 1:1 basis to the following airlines: United Airlines, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, and Air France.
  • Points can be converted on a 1:1 basis to the following hotel loyalty programs: Hyatt, IHG, Ritz-Carlton, and Marriott
  • Sharing points. Ultimate Rewards points are instantly transferable to other accounts like family members, as long as they have their own Chase card with Ultimate Rewards as an authorized user (free with Chase Freedom). This way, you can pool points together for transfers and redemptions if you like.

Other card benefits:

  • Dedicated customer service line with a live person that answers the phone 24/7. No waiting or complicated phone trees.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Primary car rental collision damage waiver insurance. Decline the rental company’s collision insurance and charge the entire rental cost to your card. Coverage is primary and provides reimbursement up to $75,000 for theft and collision damage for most rental cars in the U.S. and abroad. Most other cards only offer secondary coverage that kicks in only after the deductible of your individual insurance policy is used.
  • Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance. If your trip is canceled or cut short by sickness, severe weather and other covered situations, you can be reimbursed up to $10,000 per trip for your pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours, and hotels.
  • Trip Delay Reimbursement. If your common carrier travel is delayed more than 6 hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family are covered for unreimbursed expenses, such as meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket
  • Enjoy special car rental privileges from National Car Rental, Avis, and Silvercar when you book with your card.

This is still a new card, but there is reported success in people “upgrading” their existing Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited, and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards to this new Sapphire Reserve card. If you convert, you will not be eligible for the 100,000 point sign-up bonus, but you will still get the standard card features like the $300 calendar year travel credit which can still offset the $450 annual fee.

Note that Chase has a widely-reported but unofficial rule that they will automatically deny approval on new credit cards if you have 5 or more new credit cards from any issuer on your credit report within the past 2 years (aka the 5/24 rule). This rule is designed to discourage folks that apply for high numbers of sign-up bonuses.

As for the $300 annual travel credit, “annually” means the year beginning with your account open date through the first December statement date of that same year, and each 12 billing cycles starting after your December statement date through the following December statement date. So it’s not exactly by calendar year, but roughly close and you can likely get this twice under the first year’s annual fee.

In terms of first-year value, this card is probably one of the highest in recent memory. You get 100k points worth $1,500 towards travel booked through Chase, $300 in travel credit that can be used once in 2016 and again in 2017, Priority Pass Select membership, up to $100 Global Entry application credit, and more…. all for $450 annual fee. Your potential net value for the first year is easily over $1,650. If you spend enough to trigger the sign-up bonus and the annual travel credit, can redeem the points for something you want, and haven’t racked up 5 new credit cards in the last 24 months, this is quite a deal.

Discount Mags Employee Discount Sale

moneymag2016DiscountMags.com is having an Employee Discount Sale which actually has some good prices for many popular magazines. Their prices also don’t require auto-renewal, which I like as you don’t have to remember to cancel and it allows you to easily shop again for the best deal later on. If you compare with MagazinePriceSearch.com, many of the prices from this sale beat the lowest prices shown on the price comparison engine.

Here are some sample prices for magazines:

  • Bloomberg Businessweek 1 year, 55 issues for $14.70 ($0.27/issue). MPS best price was $28.99 ($0.53 per issue).
  • Consumer Reports Magazine 1 year, 13 issues for$19.74 ($1.52/issue). MPS best price was $24.07 ($1.85 per issue).
  • Money Magazine 1 year, 12 issues for $7.48 ($0.62/issue). Amazon.com price is lower at $5 for 12 issues, but with auto-renewal required.
  • Outside Magazine 1 year, 12 issues for $4.73 ($0.39/issue). MPS best prices was $16 ($1.33 per issue).

Ting Review: Bring Your Existing Phone, Referral Discount, Now Cheaper Data

tinglogTing provides mobile phone service with a “pay-only-for-what-you-use” and “bring your own phone” structure. I recently switched my parents over to Ting from Republic Wireless so that they could use our older iPhones (easier for them, easier for us to do tech support). Ting recently updated their pricing structure to include cheaper data, so I am updating my review.

Who can save money? Ting works best for overall moderate usage, especially spread across multiple users. Why pay for unlimited minutes and texts when you don’t need them? Why pay for 5 GB every month if you often use less? Sample rates:

  • $12.00 per line ($26 total) per month for 2 lines sharing 500 minutes, 100 texts, and no data. (This is the typical bill amount with my parents.)
  • $27.50 per line ($55 total) per month for 2 lines sharing 1,000 minutes, 1,000 texts, and 2 GB data.
  • $9.50 per line ($38 total) per month for 4 lines sharing 500 minutes, 1,000 texts, and no data.
  • $16.75 per line ($67 total) per month for 4 lines sharing 1,000 minutes, 1,000 texts, and 2 GB data.

Put your own numbers into the Ting interactive rate calculator to see if you can save money. Each line is a flat $6 and all lines share a bucket of either minutes, text, and data.

Here’s a screenshot of their NEW rate breakdown:

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Here’s a screenshot of their OLD rate breakdown. You can see that their data used to be much more expensive, working out to $19 for the first GB, $29 for 2GB, and then $15 per extra GB of data (billed pretty much down to the penny). As of 8/5/2016, the numbers are $16 for the first GB, $20 for 2 GB, and now $10 per extra GB of data (billed in $10 increments). The price drop applies to everyone and pretty much no matter what, the new data plan is cheaper than the old data plan.

Ting realized that they were being known as “good if you don’t use a lot of data”.

Ting uses both Sprint CDMA and T-Mobile GSM networks, so you can bring over any used Sprint phone, used T-Mobile phone, or any unlocked GSM phone. Use their Ting phone compatibility checker tool. If you bring your own GSM phone, you’ll need a SIM card. Prices change with time and promotions, but they currently cost $9 + free shipping via USPS Priority Mail.

Bring Your Own Phone. You can buy a refurbished iPhone 5 directly from Ting for about $200, but you can also buy a used iPhone 5 for about $109 from Swappa. A used Samsung Galaxy S4 from Ting costs about $180, but they are about $100 on Swappa.

Being able to bring over the same phone you’ve already been using is the best way to save money. We had an old Verizon iPhone 5, which is also GSM unlocked. We just bought a SIM card, popped it in, and starting using the service immediately.

Refer-a-friend discount. New Ting customers get a $25 credit with a referral link (that’s mine). Thanks in advance if you use it, you’ll be saving my parents some money on their next bill.

Bottom line. Ting’s strengths are transparent, metered monthly plans and a flexible bring-your-own-phone policy. They recently dropped their data prices. “Pay for what you use” means that you don’t need to pay for 3 GB tier every month if most months you only use 1 or 2 GB. The math works out best for shared plans. You can bring over any used Sprint, used T-Mobile, or unlocked GSM phone. Not everyone will save money, so use their rate calculator to compare your own situation.

Republic Wireless Review: New $20/Month Plan, Phone Options, SIM Cards

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Republic Wireless provides mobile phone service, specializing in making phone calls seamlessly over WiFi. They are not afraid to make big changes and take risks in trying to be more competitive in their offerings. While their 2.0 Refund plans received a mixed response (we switched out during this transition), they recently announced their new 3.0 Clear Choice plans with the T-Mobile network and a wider selection of phone options. Here’s a look at the changes.

Who can save money? Republic Wireless still works best for heavy talk and text users with frequent WiFi coverage. Data usage can be anywhere from none to relatively heavy (10 GB). The plans are priced per person, so they work well for individuals that can’t take advantage of family or shared plans. Here are all of their newest Clear Choice plan options:

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In their opinion and mine, the sweet spot of their plan is the $20/month offering, which includes unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 1 GB of 4G LTE data. For $15 a month, you can get unlimited talk and text with zero data.

Phone options. One of the weak spots of Republic Wireless was that they need to use special software to run their WiFi voice calls, so they restricted you to specially-modified phones. You had to either buy a new phone from them, or try to find another RW-modified phone on the secondary market.

With their 3.0 structure, they have introduced a large list of GSM phone options. Here’s their initial launch list, and they hint at more phones to come. I’ve highlighted the most expensive and cheapest options.

  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge – $799
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 – $699
  • Samsung Galaxy J3 – $179
  • Samsung Galaxy S6 – $549
  • Nexus 6P by Huawei – $499 (on sale from $599)
  • Nexus 5X by LG – $349
  • Moto X Pure Edition – $349
  • Moto G4 – $199
  • Moto G4 Plus – $299

In addition, starting 8/11/16, you will be able use a SIM card with your own unlocked GSM phone if the model number specifically matches their restricted list. There are still no Apple phones on the list (hopefully this changes one day).

Bottom line. Republic Wireless is making some big changes, so it’s worth taking another look at them. The cell network is now T-Mobile for new customers, not Sprint. The $20 a month plan for unlimited talk, text, and 1 GB of LTE data is very competitive. There are 9 new Android GSM phones available starting at $199, a new SIM card option, but still no Apple phones.

Best Buy: 10% Off All Prepaid Phone Cards

bbprepaidBest Buy has a sale offering 10% off prepaid phone cards. The “top-up” options include Verizon Prepaid, T-Mobile Prepaid, AT&T GoPhone, Cricket, Net 10, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, TracPhone, Simple Mobile, Locus, and H20.

Cricket Wireless (uses AT&T network) offers a $40 a month plan ($35 net after $5 AutoPay credit) with unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 2.5 GB of LTE data. The data speeds are throttled to 8 Mbps for LTE and 4 Mbps for 4G HSPA+, which is still pretty fast to me but is a way that they save money. With this promo, you can buy a $40 topup card for $36, theoretically taking your net outlay down to $31 a month.

If you want to buy a lot of cards, you can stack this with the previously-available AmEx Offer for $25 off $250 at Best Buy. California residents should note that Best Buy will charge the MTS surcharge (basically sales tax) on prepaid card 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.

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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.)