Current Amex Special Offers: Whole Foods, JC Penney, Best Buy

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amexoffersUpdated 7/21/04. This post will be updated to include selected recent special offers from American Express that are widely available to their cardholders. These promotions often offer the opportunity for easy savings without changing your spending habits. Sometimes I just buy a gift card if I go the store regularly.

Here are the current widely-available special offers:

  • Whole Food Market $10 off $75. Get a one-time $10 statement credit by using your connected Card to make a single qualifying purchase of $75 or more in-store at Whole Foods Market by 9/30/14. I would just buy a $75 gift card if you don’t usually spend that much at once.
  • JC Penney $10 off $50. Get a one-time $10 statement credit by using your connected card to spend a total of $50 or more on qualifying purchases in-store or online at JCPenney by 9/2/14.
  • Best Buy $25 off $250. Get a one-time $25 statement credit by using your connected Card to spend a total of $250 or more in-store and online at Best Buy by 9/2/14.
  • Delivery.com $5 off $25. Get a one-time $5 statement credit by using your connected card to make a single purchase of $25 or more online at delivery.com by 8/3/14. First-time customers can also get $7 off first order of $20 or more (expires 7/31/14). Various cities.
  • American Express Gift Card $10 off $200. Get a one-time $10 statement credit by using your connected card to spend a total of $200 or more on American Express Gift Cards at www.americanexpress.com/gift-cards by 7/30/14.

Targeted offers include $20 off $20 at Amazon and $20 off $20 at Costco.com. Check your account and you may be pleasantly surprised. (Or not. I wasn’t. :) ) Hat tip reader Tim.

Here are the various ways to access these offers:

  • Log into your AmEx account online and scroll down until you see the “Amex Offers For You” tab.
  • Use the AmEx smartphone app.
  • Access via social media at AmExOffers.com – Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and TripAdvisor.
  • Not everyone can access every offer, but the ones on Twitter tend to be available to everyone. You can track these easily on their Favorites page.

Groupon Deal: Sam’s Club Membership

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samslogoAvailable again. Groupon has a special Sam’s Club Plus membership deal where for $45 you get:

  • One-year Sam’s Club Savings membership ($45 value), which includes a membership card for the primary cardholder and a complimentary membership card for a spouse or other household member.
  • $20 Sam’s Club gift card
  • Four Fresh-food vouchers, redeemable at the time of membership activation through Monday, October 27, 2014 (a $26.23 value), including:
    • Sliced oven-roast turkey (22 oz. – $7.98 value)
    • Ciabatta rolls (8 ct. – $3.99 value)
    • Black bean five-layer dip (28 oz. – $7.98 value)
    • Apple pie (10” – $6.28 value)

Valid at any Sam’s club location. New members only, which is defined as someone who does not have a currently valid membership. Remember that you can save even more on your Groupon with cashback shopping sites like eBates ($5 new customer bonus), Mr. Rebates ($5 bonus), and BigCrumbs.

Kindle Unlimited Review: Personal Finance and Investing Books

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kindleu2Amazon has just announced Amazon Unlimited, an eBook and audiobook subscription service that costs $9.99 a month (30-day free trial) and not included in Amazon Prime. They claim over 600,000 titles in their library, although that number is padded by a lot of little-known self-published eBooks. “Thousands” of those books come with free audiobook versions. You can read unlimited books (max 10 out at once) and on any Kindle app (Windows, Mac, web browser, iPhone/iPad, Android, etc).

It’s a library card with 24/7 instant availability, but how well-stocked is this virtual library?

My personal reading habits include mainly business, personal improvement, and finance books. I compiled a list of notable books that I have read or want to read first, and then checked if Amazon Unlimited had it. I’m also including the findings from my Oyster review (a competing eBook app) for comparison purposes.

Book Oyster.com Amazon Unlimited
William Bernstein’s Recommended Reading List for Young Investors
The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. Yes No
Common Sense on Mutual Funds by Jack Bogle. Yes No
Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation by Edward Chancellor. No No
The Great Depression: A Diary by Benjamin Roth. Yes No
Your Money and Your Brain by Jason Zweig. Yes No
How a Second Grader Beats Wall Street by Allan Roth. Yes No
All About Asset Allocation by Rick Ferri. No No
5 Recent Bestsellers
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis. No Yes
Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry by Helaine Olen. No No
Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. No No
Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. No Yes
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. No No
5 Personal Favorite Financial Books
Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. No No
Work Less, Live More: The Way to Semi-Retirement by Robert Clyatt. Yes No
The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason. No No
The Four Pillars of Investing by William Bernstein. No No
A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton G. Malkiel. No No

 
* Oyster catalog checked June 2014 and Amazon Unlimited checked July 2014.

Recap

In the “major publisher, popular, well-reviewed” category, Oyster wins hands-down. AmazonUnlimited reportedly does not have any of the major “Big 5″ publishers (they are not BFFs right now). In the “recent business bestseller” category, neither is great but Amazon actually has a slightly better showing. Many of Michael Lewis’s other books are also on AmazonUnlimited (The Big Short, Liar’s Poker, The Blind Side). In the “niche DIY early retirement personal finance nerd” category, again neither does great although Oyster technically wins by a nose.

Bottom line: Amazon Unlimited has a relatively limited catalog for personal finance enthusiasts.

Keep in mind that the Amazon Kindle Owner’s Lending Library still exists (at least for now) and boasts 500,000+ titles (again padded by self-published eBooks). The Kindle Lending Library is free if you already have both a Kindle (any model) and an Amazon Prime subscription. You can only read on a Kindle device though, and you only get one title per month.

There are some promising titles available if you dig around, for example I noticed that William Bernstein’s “Investing for Adults” series of books (The Ages of the Investor, Skating Where the Puck Was, Deep Risk, and Rational Expectations so far) are all available with both Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Lending Library.

Personally, I might sign-up for the free trial and read whatever books I can during that window and maybe it’ll spill over for a month (though you can cancel now and still enjoy you free month without worry of auto-bill), but I can’t see myself paying $120 a year for a limited selection of books (that interest me) that I can’t keep forever.

Spirit Airlines Free 8,000 Miles = 80% of One-Way Flight Award or Free Magazines

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hatespiritSpirit Airlines is a budget airline that charges for things like carry-ons and printing a boarding pass at check-in. They have the highest number of complaints per passenger. But they’re cheap – they claim 40% lower on average. They are also known for controversial ad campaigns, including their most recent Hate Thousand Mile Giveaway. Basically, make a complaint about any airline and get 8,000 Spirit miles. If you don’t have one yet, you can sign up for a free account beforehand.

As previously mentioned, you can grab another 1,000 Spirit miles with a new Rewards Dining account and spending $30 (tax and tip count) at a participating restaurant. Get another 750 bonus miles by signing up for MyPoints and making a $25 purchase through their shopping mall. Finally, get 400 miles for joining a survey site and taking your first survey.

What can you do with Spirit miles?

  • Free flight award chart. One-way awards start at 10,000 miles. This is why I mention the partners above, as a possible way to get to 10k without flying.
  • However, if you apply for their branded credit card, one-way awards start at 2,500 for off-peak awards. But since everyone is getting these free miles, I don’t know how easy it will be to grab one of these.
  • Free magazine subscriptions. Via MagsforMiles, 40 issues of Fortune is 2,900 miles, 51 issues of The Economist is 4,800 miles, 12 issues of Money is 1,200 miles, 304 issues of Wall Street Journal is 4,800 miles, 52 issues of Time is 1,800 miles. Other examples are Sports Illustrated, Vogue, People…

So at worst, fill out a 60-second form and get two free magazine subscriptions. I just did it and I’m not really sure where the “hate” goes, I guess they just want to remind us that other airlines stink too. “Miles will be posted to your FREE SPIRIT account within 10 days of submission.” Keep in mind that miles expire after only 90 days of inactivity. So redeem quickly or sign up for the dining miles program to extend expiration.

Fandango Movie Ticket Discounts: 2-for-1 Fridays + 20% Off Gift Cards

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fanplus1Only six Fridays left! Fandango has brought back their Visa Signature summer promotion from April 25th to August 8th. 2-for-1 movie tickets on Fridays! You can also get 20% off Fandango gift cards which can be used any day of the week and can be instantly redeemable online.

2-For-1 Movie Fridays. If you buy two or more tickets via Fandango.com/visasignature on a Friday, one of those tickets will be free at checkout (up to $19.50 value). Works with IMAX and other premium theaters. This should also work with the Fandango Mobile App “TIXPRESS” feature if you have a Visa Signature as the stored payment. No promo code required.

Tickets must be purchased on a Friday and used on a Friday showing. Limit 1 complimentary movie ticket per Visa Signature card purchase, per 30 day period, following the date of a purchase in connection with this offer.

Note that this means if you have more than one Visa Signature card, you can participate more often. Check your credit cards, you may be surprised to have one already, especially if you’ve gone after some of the juicy $500+ sign-up bonuses recently. The following are all Visa Signature cards:

20% off Fandango Gift Cards. You also get 20% off gift cards bought in $25 increments, which is basically $5 off $25 and valid any day of the week.

Limit four (4) discounted Fandango Gift Card purchases per Visa Signature card per month (maximum of $100 in Fandango Gift Cards).

Again, this is per Visa Signature card. The service fee can be annoying, but these promotions still make it a net discount. If you are a member of AMC Stubs, you can get the Fandango service fee waived at those theaters (membership costs $12 a year). I must say that being able to buy tickets from my phone is quite nice.

I’m not sure if these stack with other promotional codes, but their fine print says that they can’t be combined with other offers.

Rewards Dining Programs and Avoiding Airline Miles Expiration Policies

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stopwatch2As I am now a father of two in diapers and no longer an active traveler, I am again faced with the possible expiration of my frequent flier miles due to inactivity.

The easiest and cheapest way for me to keep my miles alive has been to using dining rewards programs that give me miles for eating at participating restaurants. You just link your existing credit card and pay with that credit card and it figures everything out for you – no embarrassing coupons, apps, or membership cards. Not all the food joints are great (this is basically paid advertising and the best places don’t need to advertise) but thankfully there is consistently a small overlap between participating merchants and places I usually eat at anyway. My $10 lunch fills the stomach and resets the clock on my 5 or 6-figure mileage balance (although you could buy something as little as a $1 bottle of water). Miles usually post within a few weeks; often faster.

Each separately branded program can have multiple credit cards linked to it, but any single credit card can only be linked with one program. (Hope that made sense. You can’t earn miles on two airlines on the same purchase.) However, you can change the linked cards as often as you like via website.

Be on the lookout for also various limited-time promotions for both new and existing members that may offer you more free points and miles. For example, below is a limited-time promotion offering new American Airlines Dining members 2,000 miles for spending $30+ at a participating restaurant and completing a short survey. At 1 to 2 cents value each, that 2,000 mile bonus is worth $20-$40 by itself. You can join each program and grab every bonus (one by one or simultaneously, if you have enough credit card numbers).

Here are all the airline mileage and hotel programs that are affiliated with Rewards Network (formerly iDine), along with their expiration policies:

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

American Airlines AAdvantage

Delta SkyMiles

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

Spirit Airlines

United Airlines MileagePlus

US Airways Dividend Miles

Hilton HHonors

International Hotel Group (IHG)

Capital One 360 Financial Independence Day Promo 2014

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13045000Capital One 360 is running their annual Financial Independence Day promotion, with what is traditionally the best bonus of the year for their 360 Savings and 360 Checking accounts. (Formerly known as ING Direct.) These online bank accounts offer no monthly fees and no minimum balance requirements, all with a decent interest rate. As a result, the savings account makes a great “online piggy bank” where you can make free transfers from your existing checking accounts from any bank into the 360 Savings account on a regular basis. Promo details:

360 Savings $76 Bonus

  • Grab $76 when you open a 360 Savings® account.
  • This has to be the primary account holder’s first 360 Savings account and it needs a $500 minimum deposit.
  • The bonus starts earning interest on day 1, but you can’t take it out for at least 30 days.

360 Checking $100 Bonus

  • Earn $100 when you open a 360 Checking® account. Sign up for fee-free 360 Checking®, make 5 Debit Card purchases or 5 mobile deposits with CheckMateSM within 45 days and snag a cool $100 on day 50.
  • This has to be your and your joint account holder’s (if you have one) first 360 Checking account.
  • Open 360 Checking from June 30th – July 3rd and make a total of 5 Debit Card purchases or 5 CheckMateSM deposits or any combination of the two within 45 days.
  • Your $100 bonus will be automatically deposited into your account on day 50.

Expedia $50 off $200 Coupon Code

Expedia has a 4th of July promotion where if you use their mobile app you can get $50 off a $200 hotel booking. That’s up to 25% off. Pretty simple… go to link, enter mobile phone number, receive both unique coupon code and mobile app download link. Limited time offer; grab the code now if interested. Via Fatwallet.

Hotel stay must be $200 before taxes and fees. Promo code must be redeemed on mobile app (at checkout page) by 7/7/14 for travel between 6/27/14 and 12/31/14. Limit one per user account. Full terms and conditions.

Amazon App Store: Over $100 in Paid Apps Free 6/27 6/28 Only

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az100If you have an Android phone or tablet, check out this Amazon App Store promotion which has a bunch of paid apps for free, Friday and Saturday only. As usual, I just grab whatever looks good now while it is free and then later delete the ones I don’t want. If you’ve never used the Amazon App store before, you’ll get a $1 credit after your first download.

Plex app caught my eye, that is a great app for streaming movie files from your computer to your TV via Roku or to your phone. Rip all your old DVDs to a hard drive and have them only a tap away.

Cash Reserves & Best Interest Rates Update – June 2014

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percentageOur family keeps a full year of expenses put aside in cash reserves; it provides us with financial stability with the additional side benefits of lower stress and less concern about stock market gyrations. Emergency funds can actually have a better return on investment than what you see on your bank statement.

Interest rates are still depressingly low, and I haven’t made any changes to how I hold my cash reserves in the past 12 months. However, I figured an update is in order as some of you may not be aware of the many options besides your too-big-to-fail megabank savings account paying 0.000001%.

My Cash Reserves
First, a quick recap of how I have our cash reserves split up. Keep in mind that most of the rates that I locked in are no longer available, but I did blog about them at the time.

  • Ally Bank Online Saving (0.87% APY of 6/24/14) as a no-fee overdraft backup to my Ally Interest Checking (0.10% APY on balances under $15k, 0.60% APY over $15k of 6/24/14), that way I can keep minimal balance in checking. Ally checking also has unlimited ATM fee rebates and no fees. I know there are some savings accounts paying a tiny bit more, but not worth the trouble for less than 0.1% difference on $10,000.
  • Ally Bank CDs earning between 1.84% and 3.09% APY. These are old 5-year CDs with a short 60-day interest penalty. Current CD rate of 6/21/14 is 1.60% APY with 150-day early withdrawal penalty.
  • PenFed CDs earning 5% APY. Long gone, although earlier this year PenFed did offer 5-year CDs at 3% APY (no longer available). Current rates are yawn-tastic.
  • I also have several US savings bonds that I now consider part of my retirement portfolio as opposed to cash reserves, as I don’t think I’ll ever want to cash them in before full maturity. More info below.

Best Currently Available Interest Rates
If I wasn’t already invested as outlined above, here are the FDIC-insured or government-backed opportunities that I would be looking into based on my needs.

  • Everbank Yield Pledge Money Market and Interest Checking account both offer 1.40% APY guaranteed (up to $50k each) 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.
  • “Series I” US Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation. “I Bonds” bought right now will earn 1.94% total for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. You must hold them for a year, and if you redeem them within 5 years you lose the last 3 months of interest. While future rates are unknown, the net rate after a year is likely to be higher than any 1-year CD. More info here.
  • Rewards checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but only if you to jump through many hoops. Make a mistake and you’ll forfeit your interest for that month. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. If you’re up for it, a recent example is Consumers Credit Union where you can earn up to 5.09% APY on up to a $10k balance, although 3.09% APY is probably a more reasonable expectation (there are a lot of hoops).
  • 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. Synchrony Bank (formerly GE Capital Retail Bank) is offering a 5-year CD paying 2.30% APY for $25k+ balances (2.25% APY for $2k+) with an early withdrawal penalty of 180 days interest.
  • Willing to lock up your money for even longer? Tobyhanna Federal Credit Union has a 7-year CD paying 3.04% APY, however the early withdrawal penalty is a full 2 years of interest. More info here.
  • Even looooonger? “Series EE” US 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). You really want to be sure you’ll keep it for 20 years.

All rates are believed current as of writing, 6/24/14.

Chase Freedom $200 Limited Time Offer

(Update: A reminder that you can now activate your 5% cash back at Amazon.com, Zappos.com and at select department stores for 4th quarter 2014. Just did mine. Don’t forget!)

Chase Freedom CardThe Chase Freedom® – $200 Bonus has a new limited time promotion offering a $200 Bonus after you make $500 in purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. In addition, you can earn an additional $25 bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within this same 3-month period. This is the highest sign-up bonus I’ve seen for this “keeper” card.

As a rewards credit card it is better than plain vanilla 1% cashback cards with its 5% cashback on rotating categories, good for up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter. Here are the categories for the rest of 2014:

From April through June 2014:

  • Restaurants
  • Lowe’s home improvement stores

From July through September 2014 (activate starting 6/15/14):

  • Gas Stations
  • Kohl’s®

From October through December 2014 (activate starting 9/15/14):

  • Amazon.com
  • Zappos.com
  • Select Department Stores

Activate quarterly at ChaseBonus.com or call the number on the back of the card. All other purchases earn 1% back, with no tiers or expiration of rewards.

Keep in mind that you actually earn Ultimate Rewards points. If you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold/Plus small business cards which also earn those, your Ultimate Rewards points can be combined and converted to miles like United Airlines, British Airways, and Hyatt hotel points. Depending on what you redeem for (i.e. plane ticket, hotel stay), Ultimate Rewards can be worth well more than 1 cent per point this way, which means you can actually get more than 5% value back.

I’ve had this card seemingly forever as the 5% rewards often come in handy, and there is no annual fee so there’s no reason to cancel it.

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.  “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.”

Groupon Deal: Starbucks $10 Gift Card for $5

Groupon is selling a $10 Starbucks Gift Card for $5. Limited quantities, otherwise ends 6/13. Why is free coffee so appealing? Limit 1 per person. I’ve already loaded my eGift card onto their handy smartphone app.

Side deal: Get 15% off any local Groupon deal with promo code LOCAL15 valid 6/12/14 only.

Remember that you can save even more on your Groupon with cashback shopping sites like eBates ($10 new customer bonus), Mr. Rebates ($5 bonus), and BigCrumbs.