Best Interest Rates for Savings Accounts and CDs – Updated October 2015

percentage2Rates checked as of October 3rd, 2015. Our family keeps a year’s worth of expenses (not income) put aside in cash reserves; it provides financial insurance with the side benefits of lower stress and less concern about stock market gyrations. In my opinion, emergency funds can have a better return on investment than what you see on your bank statement.

I don’t chase rates nearly as much as I used to, but it still pays to shop around. Too many places are paying ZERO or close to it – most mega banks, short-term US Treasuries, and money market sweep funds. Chase offers on a 1-year CD? 0.02% APY. Bank of America on their 10-year CD? 0.15% APY. Meanwhile, the rates below vary from 1% up to over 3% annualized.

Best Currently Available Interest Rates
Here is a brief roundup of the best interest rates available on deposits backed by the full faith and credit of the US government (FDIC-insured, NCUA-insured, US Treasury Bonds, US Savings Bonds). I will try to sort them from the shortest to longest maturities.

    High-yield savings accounts

  • Online savings accounts, everyone’s got one these days. Currently, the ones with a history of competitive rates are around 1% APY. These savings accounts can change their interest rate at any time, so if you’re going to just pick the highest one, be ready to move your money.
    Short-term guaranteed rates (under 1 year)

  • Everbank Yield Pledge Money Market and Interest Checking account both offer 1.60% APY guaranteed (balances up to $150k on the Money Market) for the first 6 months for new accounts. Since it is fixed, this is essentially a 6-month CD with a higher rate than any other 6-month CD rate out there and with no early withdrawal penalty to worry about.
    Flexible Savings Bonds

  • Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation. Unfortunately, “I Bonds” bought right now will earn nothing for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. For new money, I would wait until mid-October when the next rate adjustment is announced. More info here.
    Prepaid Cards with Attached Savings Accounts

  • There is a special subset of prepaid debit cards that have the option of an “attached” FDIC-insured savings account with high interest rates. Balances are usually capped. Some of these have monthly fees and other fees for things like ATM withdrawals, so you should read the terms carefully.
  • I am currently experimenting with the NetSpend Prepaid Visa and the Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard, both of which offer 5% APY on up to $5,000 each. (Having both means I have $10k at 5% interest.) If you are referred by an existing user (links above are mine), we can both get an additional $20 bonus after depositing at least $40. (You can only get one $20 bonus even if you open both, as they are from the same company.) Detailed review upcoming.
    Rewards checking accounts

  • These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with some risk. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. But the rates can be high while they last.
  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 5.09% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY is easier to achieve unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. The rate is guaranteed until December 31, 2015, although that’s only 3 months away
    Certificates of deposit

  • If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. Why not put some money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay an early withdrawal penalty. For example, Synchrony Bank (formerly GE Capital Retail Bank) is offering a 5-year CD paying 2.25% APY $25k+ balances (2.20% APY for $2k+) with an early withdrawal penalty of 180 days interest. For example, if you withdraw from this CD after 2 years and pay the penalty, your effective rate earned will still be 1.69%.
  • Northwest Federal Credit Union has a limited-time CD offering 3.04% APY for 3-year term. $10,000 minimum and $100,000 maximum. Limited to new deposits only and limit 1 certificate per member. Early withdrawal penalty is 366 days of interest. Check if you qualify for free membership, but anyone can pay $10 to join a partner association and obtain membership that way. More details from Ken at DepositAccounts.
    Longer-term Instruments

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? Did you know that you can buy certificates of deposit via Vanguard’s bond desk? These “brokered CDs” offer the same FDIC-insurance and are often through commercial banks like Goldman Sachs. As of this writing, you can get a 10-year CD maturing 10/2/2025 that pays 2.85% APY. Prices will vary regularly.
  • How about two decades!? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.50% APY). Think of it as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You really want to be sure you’ll keep it for 20 years.

All rates were checked as of 10/3/15.

RingPlus: Basic, Free Cellular Phone Service – 1000/1000/1000 Talk/Text/Data

rplus_logoUpdated with new limited-time generous plans. RingPlus is a Sprint MVNO that offers cheap cellular phone plans, starting at… $0. You can bring over an off-contract Sprint phone (check eligibility) or you can buy one from them (slightly more expensive that on secondary market). They make money partially from ads – ads play whenever you call someone instead of the normal ringing. When your friend picks up, the ad stops immediately. You also pay for any overages past your free allotment. There are no contracts and no activation fees.

Recently, Ringplus has been aggressively courting new customers with limited-time plans. RingPlus free plans are usually only open a for a limited window, and then it closes for a while. But recently, their plans have been getting more generous, with special super-generous plans available for a few hours only. These have very little notice, but it’s worth checking their site daily if you are very interested. For example, I was able to jump on a plan with 1000 min, 1000 text, and 1000 mb every month for free. The fine print states that I must keep a non-zero balance, otherwise I will be charged a $10 top-up that will apply to any future overages.

The most recent offer is here and I can write about since it actually lasts more a few hours! Here is the best link for current offers. You can again get 1000 minutes, 1000 text, 1000 mb data until Monday 10/5/15 at 10 pm Pacific. Eligibility includes new Member and existing member sign ups with any eligible Sprint Bring Your Own Device which has not been previously activated on RingPlus for at least 30 days. They also require you to share on social media. If you miss this one, be on the lookout for future phases.

You may also find a “Jasmine” Plan with 500 minutes, 500 texts, and 500 MB of data for $0 a month with fewer restrictions.

The most important thing is to find an eligible phone and activate it during the window. It can be an ancient flip phone from Virgin Mobile (Sprint MVNO). Later, you can swap the phone out for 99 cents and keep the free plan.

You will need a credit card on file, although some of their plans don’t even require a credit card (but come with much fewer free minutes). No additional activation fee. Not even additional taxes are due on the zero plans (taxes are due on top-ups). Here’s a screenshot of their current plans, but again they change daily.


Here’s a screenshot of my dashboard that tracks your usage:


Are there any catches?

  • You have to sign up for their free plans during certain availability windows. That means you’ll need the ESN of an eligible off-contract Sprint phone waiting around, ready to go. If you’re like me, you have to resort to asking all your friends if they have any old Sprint phones you can have.
  • In the past, RingPlus has discontinued their free plans without much notice if they can’t line up enough advertisers in your calling area. That would be annoying, especially if you invested good money into a Sprint phone. Have a backup plan.
  • Honestly, I don’t know if giving away this much free talk and data is a viable business model. They are definitely trying to grow customer base and sacrifice short-term profitability. Again, know that they may cease operations with little or no notice. Plan ahead as to how you would quickly port your number to another cheap service.
  • If your phone is not eligible, then they may de-activate your plan in the future, even if you manage to activate it initially.
  • You must maintain activity on your plan. If you don’t make a call every 60 days (may differ by plan), they will de-activate your account and you’ll have to pay a fee to re-activate.
  • If you do sign up and decide to link your credit card, know that overages cost 2 cents per text, minute, or MB. MMS picture messages are at an additional cost (4 cents each). Roaming is available, but those overages are much more expensive. I would disable roaming completely on your phone to avoid such surcharges.

In case you were wondering, this is not a VoIP-only service like FreedomPop as normal calls use the Sprint voice network. However, free WiFi calling is an option so you can save your minutes. I know there are some RingPlus users out there as readers, so please share and discuss in the comments!

Bill Fixers: Let Someone Else Haggle Your Cable and Phone Bills For You

billfixers0I’ve written about haggling your cable or satellite TV bill for years, with hundreds of comments sharing both success and failures. I’ve certainly negotiated with a healthy share of customer service reps myself. But I don’t like doing it. I do it because unlike say the electrical company, who tells me “you pay based on how much power you use”, the cable company tells me “if you bother us, we’ll give you a discount, but if you are nice and quiet, you’ll pay double”. Big Data is tracking whether you compare prices or not, so it is in my best interest to announce that YES I COMPARE PRICES!

But what if you could just pay someone else to haggle for you? Deal with the long hold times, the “accidental” hang-ups, and the multiple transfers between supervisors? Enter brothers Julian and Ben Kurland of, who will do just that. I came across them in this Businessweek article:

Despite all the various life-hacking sites that will teach you how to reduce your cable bill, a recent Consumer Reports survey found that fewer than half of people who attempted to do so were effective. Services such as BillCutterz have been offering some relief, but the Kurlands say their success rate—94 percent—is higher. It usually works out because they’re annoyingly persistent. Calls can last several hours as the brothers are passed among operators, managers, and various departments. The Kurlands often call companies multiple times, looking for different representatives who will cut a deal. “You’ll talk to three people who won’t offer anything, and the fourth one will magically have a discount that no one mentioned,” Ben says.

Which companies will they negotiate with? According to their website, they’ll take a shot at any recurring monthly bill you have. They don’t do things like credit cards and medical bills.

  • Television (Cable, Satellite, IP TV)
  • Internet (Cable, DSL, Other)
  • Landline
  • Cellular (AT&T cellular bills are one of the “easiest”. T-Mobile is one of the hardest.)
  • Satellite Radio

How much does BillFixers cost? They work on a contingency basis. If they don’t save you money, you pay nothing. If they do, they charge you 50% of the first year’s savings. You can pay via lump sum or in monthly payments (which in theory would match up with your monthly savings). Some stats from USA Today:

– Of the 650 clients, 94% receive savings
– The average reduction in bills is greater than $300 per customer
– About $155,000 has been saved for customers since 2014

I don’t doubt that someone with the right skills and motivation can be a good hired negotiator. I suppose the only concern would be giving out personal information like Social Security Number. However, if you give them the right information like account numbers, they shouldn’t need that kind of sensitive information.

If you’ve been thinking about haggling but have been putting it off due to either dislike or procrastination, why not give them a shot?

I’m going to add BillFixers to the growing list of services that will help find you money for free (but if they find it, they may take a cut).

  • CoPatient: Negotiate your medical bills. They take a cut of any successful savings.
  • AutoSlash: Helps you track price drops on rental cards. They make money when you rebook at a lower price with them.
  • Paribus: Helps you automatically request price adjustments on all your online retail purchases. They take a cut of the price drop savings.
  • AirHelp, Refund.Me, AirTaxBack: Get fees refunded for certain cancelled or missed flights to/from Europe. They take a cut of the refund.

Finametrica Risk Tolerance Assessment Review + Discounts

riskprofile0Spend any time researching investments, you’ll eventually run across the concept of “risk tolerance”. If you don’t hold an investment through both the ups and downs, then you won’t enjoy its average returns, either. So how can you predict your behavior ahead of time?

What the financial industry uses is a risk tolerance survey, or risk questionnaire. You are asked a series of multiple choice questions based on theoretical scenarios to find your risk tolerance. You or a hired professional can then use that information – along with other factors like risk required and risk capacity – to determine your portfolio. I’ve taken several of these online assessments, but can someone really know how they would react to a 50% drop in their net worth in an environment of mass panic, without actually experiencing it? It is the real-world behavior that matters.

If a risk survey is the best tool available, what is the best risk survey? Which one is most carefully-written, backed by academic research, and historically vetted? From what I can tell, that is the Finametrica Risk Profiling Survey. Normally the cost is $40 for an individual to take the test, but I ran across a discount in this CNN Money article:

You can get a more accurate gauge of your appetite for risk by completing a risk tolerance questionnaire. Vanguard has a good asset allocation tool that’s free, while FinaMetrica offers a more comprehensive version for $40 (although given recent market turbulence FinaMetrica is offering the test and the nine-page report that comes with it for $4 until the end of September). Both tests recommend an investment portfolio based on your answers.

Okay, four bucks, I can handle that. (The promo has been extended to October 31st, as well.) I paid, answered 25 multiple choice questions, and I was done in under 10 minutes. Of course, a few more minutes of poking around and I discovered the same test for free by clicking here. Pfft. What’s up with that?

(Update: Reader Jason points out that the free version doesn’t accept free e-mails like “”. I would suggest trying various free e-mail forwarding services if you want a workaround. Just google “disposable e-mail”.)

Questions. I took screenshots of the entire survey but I won’t post the specific questions here. They do share these sample questions, which I can confirm are actual questions from the paid test.

1. Compared to others, how do you rate your willingness to take financial risks?
Extremely low risk taker.
Very low risk taker.
Low risk taker.
Average risk taker.
High risk taker.
Very high risk taker.
Extremely high risk taker.

2. How easily do you adapt when things go wrong financially?
Very uneasily.
Somewhat uneasily.
Somewhat easily.
Very easily.

3. When you think of the word “risk” in a financial context, which of the following words comes to mind first?

The general idea is that the questions poke and prod you from various directions, trying to avoid having one misunderstood question alter your overall results. The questions were all brief and multiple choice, except for the last one which asked you to predict your own risk tolerance score relative to the overall population.

Results. Well, I guessed that my score would be 50 out of 100. My actual score was 54 out of 100, which they say is “slightly-higher-than-average” and actually in the 64th percentile. (So the score isn’t a percentile even though they are on a bell curve? I’m not good at statistics.)


According to your risk, you are assigned one of 7 Risk Groups. You are then told the “typical attitudes and values” for people of your Risk Group, as well as if you differed significantly in any specific areas. Here’s how people in my Risk Group 4 would have picked their overall portfolio:


So my risk tolerance peers would pick Portfolio 4, but in reality I am between a Portfolio 5 and 6.

Finally, you are provided a summary chart. Here’s mine:


Final impressions.

  • Relatively good risk tolerance survey. I’ve already expressed my view that these surveys are only one limited piece of the puzzle. But as far as risk surveys go, this one did feel like it went more in-depth than others that I have tried. However, I would have enjoyed more interactivity and/or questions using charts and/or graphs.
  • Best as a tool to help communicate your personality to others, like spouse or financial advisor. I didn’t feel the report was very useful to me. I already know that I am a relatively conservative investor who also knows that I have to take some risks to beat inflation. The real value of this survey is that it would help describe my investment personality to my spouse, partner, kids, or financial planner. So if it’s just you, I don’t know if I can recommend it. If you want to educate a family member, then it may be worth the time and money. If you have an advisor, get them to pay for it. :)
  • $40 price point is high for individuals. As a DIY investor, I would not have paid $40 to answer 25 multiple choice questions about myself. I can definitely see an advisor paying that much on behalf of their client as part of their service (and many do). At the discounted $4 rate, I thought it was worth it. Of course, free would have been even better…
  • Don’t expect any specific portfolio recommendations. The CNN article promised a “recommended investment portfolio based on your answers”. I don’t think that is an accurate statement (see table above). I would say you just get a very high-level breakdown of what other people of a similar risk level “would prefer”. They don’t even use the words “stocks”, “bonds”, or “cash”.

5% Cash Back Credit Cards: Rotating Categories Update 2015

Activation for 4th quarter 2015 now open for all cards! The credit cards below offer a hefty 5% cash back on certain categories that rotate each quarter. It takes a little extra attention, but I also rack up over a hundred dollars in additional rewards per year without changing my spending habits. None of these have an annual fee, so it costs me nothing to keep them all around. New cardmembers often also get an initial sign-on bonus.

Chase Freedom VisaChase Freedom® – $150 Bonus

From October 1st through December 31st, 2015 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:


Enroll each quarter at As long as you activate by the end of the quarter the rewards are retroactive. All other purchases earn 1% back, with no tiers or expiration of rewards. Currently, the Chase Freedom® card is offering $150 bonus cash back if you sign up and make just $500 in purchases in your first three months and a $25 Bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within this same 3-month period. No annual fee.

Discover it 14 ImageDiscover it® Card

From October 1st through December 31st, 2015 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Department Stores
  • Clothing Stores

Enroll after logging into your online account (look on the right-hand side). 5% rewards won’t apply until after you activate your rewards, so it is best to activate now before you forget. New applicants can get their earned Cash Back doubled at the end of the first year.

Citi Dividend Platinum Select Visa CardCiti® Dividend Platinum Select® Visa® Card (Existing cardholders only)

From October 1st through December 31st, 2015, you can earn 5% cash back on purchases in the following categories (calendar):

  • Best Buy
  • Department Stores

This a grandfathered card that is no longer available to new applicants. Log into your online account or call 1-800-231-0891 to activate the rewards each quarter (starts upon activation, not retroactive). The total cash back limit is $300 earned per calendar year.

U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card

What makes this card unique is that you get to choose the two 5% cash back categories every quarter, out of a preset selection of niche categories like “Fast Food” or “Sporting Goods Stores”. You also get to choose a single 2% cash back category from a preset selection of broader categories like “Gas Stations” or “Grocery Stores”. 1% cash back on everything else. No limit on total cash back earned.

As you’ll see below, getting 2% is not that special, so this card is best if you spend significantly in the available niche categories. Also, you must remember to choose your categories each quarter! If you do not choose your categories, all purchases revert to only earning 1% cash back for that quarter.

Finally, always get AT LEAST 2% CASH BACK on everything else! Don’t settle for the “1% on everything else” that these cards offer. Check out either the Citi Double Cash or Fidelity American Express credit 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.”

Chase Ink Plus Business Card Review: 60,000 Rewards Points Bonus

Chase Ink Plus Card Art

One of Chase’s small biz credit cards is called the Ink Plus® Business Card. It turns out to be very similar to the Chase Ink Bold Business card, but with the important difference that the Ink Plus is a credit card where you can carry a balance and the Bold is a charge card that you must pay in full each month. The current APR for both purchases and balance transfers is 15.24%.

This means that the Ink Plus is a separate card with its own sign-up bonus, currently a 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after your after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months your account is open. You can read about my Ink Bold bonus experience here.

Ultimate Rewards points are very flexible:

  • Cash. 1 point = 1 cent in cash, so 60,000 points = $600 cash.
  • Travel. 1 point = 1.25 cents towards travel, so 60,000 points = $750 towards travel at the same prices at Expedia or Travelocity (no % markups), split up however you like into multiple tickets, down to the penny. Good for people who don’t like to bother with miles.
  • Frequent flier miles and hotel rewards points. Transfers directly to United miles, British Airways miles, Hyatt hotel points, and Marriott hotel points. Best for folks that are willing to research and maximize their miles. Top up your account to reach an award, an transfer over only what you need..

Here are the important features of this card:

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 5X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 2X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Chip-enabled for enhanced security at home and abroad when used at a chip card reader
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • $95 Annual Fee

Based on past experiences, you should be able to get this card and bonus in addition to the Ink Cash card as they are different cards. I already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred personal card, so I’ll probably wait for a bit and then try out this new card as well for my business. Gift cards purchases are also useful for satisfying the spending requirement for the bonus.

Many people aren’t aware of the fact that they can apply for business credit cards, even if they are not a corporation or LLC. The business type is called a sole proprietorship, and these days many people are full-time or part-time consultants, freelancers, or other one-person business. This is the simplest business entity, but it is fully legit and recognized by the IRS. On a business credit card application, you should use your own legal name as the business name, and your Social Security Number as the Tax ID. This is how I got all my cards before incorporating, and how my wife gets her business cards for her small side business.

“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.”

British Airways Credit Card Review – Total of 100,000 Bonus Avios!

British Airways Visa Signature Card

Updated: Version of 100k offer is back. Here’s an offer that we took advantage of previously for multiple free flights both within the US or internationally. The British Airways Visa Signature® Card is offering 50,000 bonus Avios after you make $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.  An additional 50,000 bonus Avios can be hitting the following purchase plateaus in the first 12 months:

  • 25,000 bonus Avios after spending an additional $10,000 in your first year (total of 75k miles)
  • Another 25,000 bonus Avios after spending an additional $10,000 in your first year (total of 100k total bonus Avios after $20,000 spent in year 1)
  • This bonus offer is available to you as long as you have not received a new cardmember bonus for this product in the past 24 months.
  • $95 annual fee.

In addition to the bonus Avios, you will also get 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases. Another perk is no foreign transaction fees, handy when traveling and saving you up to 3% off everything compared to cards that have the fee. Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa Card, you’ll earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years. Smart Chip Technology allows you to use your card for chip based purchases in Europe and beyond.

The Avios reward chart is now based on how far you want to travel in terms of miles. So what can you do with all those points?

Redeem awards domestically on partner American Airlines. Within the US, it’s usually easiest to find flights on partner American Airlines. There are no fuel surcharges when booking with American. Seating availability will be limited, but if you are flexible there is decent inventory.

  • Los Angeles to Honolulu, Hawaii using only 25,000 Avios points roundtrip. I ran a quote in Fall and it cost $659 broken down to $621 fare and only $38 in taxes. So in this case you could save $621 in exchange for 25,000 points, which is 2.5 cents per point. You can also do JFK to LAX for 25k points roundtrip.
  • Shorter-distance flights can be a good deal as well. Round Trip from Chicago to New York City is only 15,000 Avios points + about $30 in taxes. Charlotte, NC to New York City is only 9,000 Avios roundtrip. Los Angeles to Las Vegas is also 9,000 Avios roundtrip. Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon is 15,000 Avios roundtrip.

More details below:

Finding partner awards on is better than is was in the past, so try it first. Type in your to/from cities within the US, choose to book flights with Avios points, and then click to include partners:

If you have the flexibility, you can also search for additional dates for more available seats. Here’s a trip I found for a short flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Los Angeles (LAX) for just 9,000 miles + $5. So with 50,000 bonus miles, you could take 5 of these flights and have points left over!

You may find more space going business class in the US. If you’re travelling on set dates, you may want to look for business class tickets instead. Why use 50,000 miles on some “anytime” Economy ticket when you could flight in business class comfort? Here’s a cross-country business class trip I found from San Francisco (SFO) to New York (JFK) for 50,000 miles + $5.

Use the American Airlines website and look for “MileSAAver” awards. Record the exact flight dates and numbers, and then call at British Airways at 1-800-452-1201 to book them. If you can’t find the same flight on, they should waive the phone book fee (they did for me). Don’t be discouraged if you have to use this method, especially if you aren’t flying nonstop. Also, call back and talk with a different agent if they aren’t helpful initially.

Redeem Avios points for business class to South America. There are also no fuel surcharges with booking on LAN Airlines. You can get New York to Buenos Aires, Argentina for 50k Avios roundtrip.

Redeem Avios points for business class to Europe. Since business class is so expensive, but the flight across the Atlantic is so long, redeeming points for business class tickets can be a good value as well, but there are big fuel surcharges. But if you really want to go this route as we did, they are a much smaller proportion and your trip will be so much more comfortable and truly an experience.

A roundtrip business class flight quote from New York City to London was $3,640, with $2,540 in fare and $1,100 in taxes. I could book the same award ticket for 80,000 Avios points plus $1,100 in taxes. Now we’re talking 3.2 cents per point.

Therefore I figured, why not use this card as an excuse to go to Europe in style, because I would never have done so otherwise. When booking my trip, I ended up calling in and getting a really nice customer service rep that used her tricks to nab me a combination of American and British Airways flights from my city to both London and Rome and back, all for under 100,000 miles. The flight was a first-time experience for me… priority check-in and boarding, first class lounges with showers and buffets, multi-course inflight meals, actually sleeping on seats that were fully flat, etc.

How not to use your miles. Don’t use Avios for a economy class transatlantic flight from USA to Europe, because you’ll still be subject to taxes and fees on award redemptions, which are often half the entire cost of the ticket. I ran a quick search for a random New York City (JFK) to London (LHR) flight that cost $1,050, the taxes and fees alone were $650. You can get the $400 “fare” for 40,000 Avios points, but that’s only 1 cent a point value.

Finally, you can also use partner airlines such as LAN Airlines or Cathay Pacific to get from the US to both Asia and South America on business class for 100,000 Avios or less.

Finally, if you can manage to spend $30,000 a year on the card, you can even earn a 2-for-1 Travel Together Ticket good for two years when you redeem for a flight on British Airways. With the Travel Together Ticket, you can bring a companion on your next reward flight without using any additional Avios points. Fees and taxes do still apply, but the voucher is valid to any destination and includes first/business class. Another family tip is that you are allowed to pool miles between multiple people in a “household account” to make redemptions easier. So you, your spouse/partner, and other relatives can share points.

To get the max bonus requires a decent amount of spending, but the value is so high that it may be worth the effort. This was actually done x2 for Mrs. MMB and we traveled together. We householded accounts and that way I could redeem flights for both of us. It worked well because we could all book tickets together on the same flight all at once.

“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.”

Friday 9/25 Only: Amazon Prime for 30% Off, $67 a Year

amazonfireAmazon has announced a promotion for over 30% off their Amazon Prime service:

Celebrate Transparent winning 5 Emmy Awards with a $32 savings. On Friday, September 25, from 12:00am ET to 11:59pm PT, we are offering new members a special price of $67 (normally $99) for the first year of Prime.

  • New members: Buy Amazon Prime for $67 a year on Friday, 9/25.
  • Existing Prime members: I don’t know if it will work this time, but see if they will let you buy $67 Prime Gift subscriptions on Friday. First of all, not a bad gift idea. Even better, gift subscriptions of Prime don’t expire, so you can save them to sign yourself up again after your current subscription runs out. Just be sure to let your current Prime subscription actually end first by turning off auto-renewals in your settings. You will click on “End Membersip” and then “End Later” on your anniversary date.

After having kids, I must admit that I got addicted to Amazon Prime. Less need to drive anywhere with free shipping, free eBooks with Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, and Sesame Street streaming at any hour. :)

My classic Kindle is getting pretty old, so I’m thinking of picking up their new loss-leader $50 Kindle Fire as my new e-Reader. You can only read the free Kindle Owners’ Lending Library book on a “real” Kindle, not just their Kindle app.

TopCashBack: Shopping Portal With 100% Commission Payout – Updated Promos For New and Existing Members

Flat $10 New Member Bonus is back. New members must sign up through a referral link and then earn $10 in cash back through shopping. When that happens, your $10 bonus will be “released” and available for withdrawal. Promotion ends 3:00am PT on Monday, November 16, 2015


For some reason, the $10 bonus isn’t indicated on the referral link landing page, but I tested it and it does work. After you sign up with e-mail and password, you should immediately see the $10 in your account before making any purchases. Please verify yourself as well:


If you aren’t already a member, some other portals also offer sign-up bonuses:

  • eBates ($10 new user bonus after any $25+ purchase, $5 mininum cash-out)
  • Mr. Rebates ($5 new user bonus, $10 minimum cash-out)
  • ($5 new user bonus)

Original post:

topcashnewWhen you shop online these days, it’s become habit to search out a coupon or go through a shopping portal that gives a percentage back on purchases made through their links. Well, talk about a race to the bottom. Instead of rebating you part of their merchant commission, promises to rebate you all of it (and make money via ads on their website). You wouldn’t think that would be a viable business model, but the company is already the #1 cashback site in the UK so apparently it works for them.

TopCashBack also lets you get your payouts with direct ACH deposit, PayPal, and also Amazon gift certificates with a 2.5% increase in value. I usually pick the Amazon option and have cashed out multiple times without issue.

Sometimes one of these sites may privately negotiate a higher payout temporarily, so TopCashBack may not always be the highest. For example, I usually get 1% back on eBay purchases from TopCashBack, but I can currently get 3 American Airlines miles per $1 spent as well from another portal if I wanted.

Also, if you use miles or points, you may prefer getting 2 points/miles per dollar back as opposed to 2 cents per dollar back. For example, I’ve been warming up to the UltimateRewards Mall (must first have a Chase Sapphire, Chase Freedom, or Chase Ink Plus card) as 1 Ultimate Reward point is worth 1.25 cents towards travel or converts to 1 United or British Airways mile.

Citi Thank You Points Now Transfer to Virgin America + Limited-Time 25% Bonus


Citi has gradually been improving the flexibility of their ThankYou (TY) Points rewards program. In the last couple years, they have added several internationally-based airline partners on a 1:1 basis including Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Etihad, Flying Blue by Air France and KLM, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways. Today, Citi announced that eligible cardholders can now transfer their ThankYou Points to US-based Virgin America Elevate® points. The list is currently restricted to “premium” cards including the Citi ThankYou Premier® Card and Citi Prestige® Card. (As long as you have one of these cards, you can transfer in ThankYou points earned from other cards.)

What are Virgin American Elevate points worth? To keep things simple, the overall best redemption option is for US flights on Virgin America. (There are other partner airlines available, but that gets more complicated.) Here is Virgin America’s US route map [pdf], which includes New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cancun, and soon Hawaii.

Assuming you are interested in one of their routes, Elevate points are pretty easy to use. There are no blackout dates or capacity restrictions, so you can redeem points for any domestic Virgin America flight. The amounts of points for a reward flight is vary with the cash cost of the ticket (before taxes and fees). As long as you have an Elevate account, you can poke around and get an idea of the ratio. For the flights I looked at, it varied from 1.6 to 2.6 cents per Elevate point.

Here’s an example San Francisco to Honolulu flight at 2 cents per point for Main Cabin:



Here’s an example Austin to Los Angeles flight at 2.6 cents per point for Main Cabin:



Transfer ratio and value details. ThankYou points will transfer to Virgin America Elevate® points at a 2:1 ratio, with a 1,000 points minimum. In other words, the minimum transfer would be from 1,000 ThankYou points to 500 Virgin America Elevate points. At this standard redemption ratio of 2:1, that gives you a value of 0.8 to 1.3 cents per Citi ThankYou point using this transfer option.

Limited-time 25% transfer bonus. If you make such a transfer by 10/21/15 (11:59 p.m. ET), you will get a 25% bonus on your Elevate points. During this promo, every 1,000 Thank You points = 625 Virgin America Elevate points. At this promotional redemption ratio of 2:1.25, that gives you a value of 1 to 1.6 cents per Citi ThankYou point using this transfer option.

Better to book through ThankYou Travel Center? The problem is that the transfer are only limited to the premium cards, which already have a pretty good redemption option via the Travel Center, which is a aggregation site like Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz that sells flights, hotel stays, car rentals, and cruises at similar prices.

  • The Citi ThankYou Premier® Card offers 1 ThankYou point = 1.25 cents toward any travel booked through Citi ThankYou Travel Center. You also still get to earn elite qualifying miles on your redeemed flights.
  • The Citi Prestige® Card offers 1 ThankYou point = 1.33 cents toward any travel booked through Citi ThankYou Travel Center. You still get to earn elite qualifying miles on your redeemed flights. In addition, you get 1.6 cents per points when redeemed towards American Airlines or US Airways flights. You also still get to earn elite qualifying miles on your redeemed flights.

I am interested in this development because I am currently in my first year of owning the Citi Prestige card and have already earned a 50,000 Thank You point bonus and want to spend them. For me, the two best redemption options value-wise are now on specific Virgin America flights depending on the point/price ratio and all American Airlines flights where I can get close to 1.6 cents per point value. The added flight choices make it easier to find a redemption overall.

I’ve never flown on Virgin America myself, but I wouldn’t mind trying them out as they seem to be at the top of many “best US airlines” lists for customer service and flying experience. (Not that the competition is all that great.)

American Express Gift Card Class Action Settlement

amexgcpicI’ve written about American Express gift cards several times in the past, mostly when they had a promotion waiving both their purchase fees and shipping fees. In such cases, they were a cheap and efficient way to “time-shift” your purchases if you needed to meet a spending threshold soon to obtain a sign-up bonus, or if you needed some miles sooner for a reward.

American Express recently agreed to a class action settlement regarding these gift cards. Per the official settlement website, here is a summary:

The lawsuit claimed that American Express did not fully disclose all gift card contract terms, and misrepresented the value of the cards. The gift cards were subject to various fees, such as monthly fees and check issuance fees, resulting from trying to make transactions using multiple forms of payment. American Express denies that it did anything wrong, and the Court did not decide which side was right.

The dates for this settlement have been in flux, but the current deadline for claim submission is November 16, 2015. You can also exclude yourself from the settlement by this date. There is a scheduled court hearing on January 22, 2016 to consider final approval of the settlement.

You are a Class Member if you purchased, received, held or used a gift card issued by American Express from January 1, 2002 through September 21, 2011. Any gift card with an American Express logo counts. If you bought a card and gave it to someone else as a gift, you cannot get a payment for that card. The gift receiver should make a claim.

  • Depending your specific claim details, if you have a record of your gift card number the settlement offers from $5 to $20 per gift card ($40 per Class Member max, total) from a total fund of about $6.75 million.
  • If you don’t have a record of your gift cards and American Express can’t find your records based on your personal information, your max total is $5.
  • You can also request to buy a $100 AmEx Gift Card without paying the purchase fee or the shipping/handling fee.

Each Class Member who unsuccessfully tried a split-tender transaction can get up to $20. Those who incurred monthly fees can get up to $8. Those who paid a check issuance fee can get up to $5. A Class Member can claim one or all of these amounts, but no Class Member may get more than $20 per gift card or $40 total. Class Members who held an American Express Card and unsuccessfully tried a split-tender transaction and as a result incurred either a monthly fee or a check issuance fee, and who do not know their American Express gift card number, can get a total of $5. If these claims total more than $1,000,000, the $5 payments will be reduced.

Anyone, even if not a Class Member, can cash out any AmEx gift card with a balance of $25 or less. Fill out a claim form, provide your e-mail, and if the settlement is approved they will send you claim instructions. They will refund your unused balance at no cost. Useful if you don’t want to use the Amazon gift card trick (or have less than 50 cents on it).

If you’re the type of person that keeps detailed records or all your old cards in a drawer, you may be eligible for the max $40 benefit per Class Member. Otherwise, anyone can ask to cash out their small balances. You must fill out one claim form for each gift card and submit it no later than midnight November 16, 2015.

Free Rideshare Promo Codes: Uber, Lyft, Gett, Sidecar, Curb, And More

uberscreenUpdated, added new $50 offer from Gett and $15 from Curb. Summoning a car with your smartphone is all the rage. Most of these startups are offering some form of bonus credit for first-time users. If you live in a major metro area, this can quickly add up to a decent amount of free rides. I’ve used Uber several times now, and it was a very pleasant experience.

Uber – $20 off your first ride via this special link or promo code uberMYMONEYBLOG. Cities.

Lyft – $20 ride credit via promo code JONATHAN1395 or my referral link. Cities.

Flywheel – $5 off your first ride until with this special link or promo code 27A8AP.

Gett – $50 ride credit with promo code GETTOCT50 (link). Black car service in NYC only. Expires 12/30/15. After that, you can try my referral code GTJONAT17 for $20 in free credit. Everyone can get $10 flat rides anywhere in Manhattan from 110th St to Battery Park.

Sidecar – $10 ride credit with promo code jdhmd. If that doesn’t work, get a $5 ride credit with my referral code JONATHAN931.

Curb (formerly Taxi Magic) – $15 ride credit with promo code CURBFIRST. If that doesn’t work, get a $10 ride credit with referral promo code 00b72a or via this special link. Cities.

Summon (formerly Instacab) – $5 ride credit with referral code JPING or use this special link. Flat fares from anywhere in San Francisco to SFO ($35), OAK ($50) and SJC ($120).

Silvercar – $25 in Paypal when you sign up with referral code JPING or this special link and make a reservation. This is actually a rental car app, with the only choice being a silver Audi A4. Details.

Where the best deal is a referral code, I have included my own and will usually get a bounty of whatever you get (you get free ride, I get free ride). If my code isn’t the best deal, I have posted the better deal first. Let me know if you find a better confirmed deal. Thanks in advance if you use any of them.

Bonus: Get $25 credit towards any hotel stay booked through the Hotel Tonight app. Sign up online at this link with promo code JPING2 for $25 in credit (new customers only). Then download the Hotel Tonight app (Apple or Android).