Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card Review: 25,000 Point Promo

swa_200Southwest currently has a 25,000 point promo for the Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. Card applicants* can get 25,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account. You can redeem 25,000 points directly for airfare with unlimited rewards seats and no blackout dates, or also for $250 in Amazon.com gift cards. Here are the highlights:

  • Earn 25,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • Named 2015 Freddie Award Winner for Best Loyalty Credit Card
  • NEW – Chip-enabled cards with 24/7 fraud monitoring
  • Points Don’t Expire, No Blackout Dates, Bags Fly Free®
  • 2 points/$1 spent on Southwest Airlines® purchases and participating Hotel and Car Rental partners
  • 1 point/$1 spent on all other purchases
  • 6,000 points after your Cardmember Anniversary

* Had this card before? You can get the bonus again if it has been 24 months since you got your last bonus:

This new cardmember bonus offer is not available to either (i) current cardmembers of this consumer credit card, or (ii) previous cardmembers of this consumer credit card who received a new cardmember bonus for this consumer credit card within the last 24 months.

Value of Southwest Rapid Rewards points. Before April 17th, 2015, the redemption ratio for points was set at 70 points = $1 worth of Wanna Get Away airfare, which meant you get 1.43 cents of value per point. But then they made this announcement which applies after April 15, 2015:

We created Rapid Rewards® because we think you deserve to actually feel rewarded. And, from time to time we must make some updates to our program. Beginning April 17, 2015, the number of Rapid Rewards Points needed to redeem for certain flights will vary based on destination, time, day of travel, demand, fare class, and other factors. However, there are still many flights which will stay at the current redemption rate. And don’t forget that when fares go on sale, so do the points needed for redeeming for a reward flight on those fares.

In practice, many flights are still available at around the previous 70 points = $1 worth of Wanna Get Away airfare (1.43 cents per point), but many are now either cheaper or more expensive. Based on a few searches, you can find rewards redemptions between 1.2 and 1.7 cents per point. At the lowest value, that would make 25,000 points worth $300 in Wanna Get Away airfare, broken up into however many flights you wanted. I would use this conservative value myself, even though you could potentially get more value than that.

Another lower boundary would be gift card redemptions. You can still redeem 5,000 points for a $50 a Amazon.com or Wal-Mart gift certificate. That makes 25,000 points still worth $250 in Amazon or Wal-Mart gift cards.

Companion Pass. One of the neater feature of the Rapid Rewards program is the Companion Pass.

Your spouse, your best friend, or maybe your mother. Whomever you choose, your Companion can fly with you when you have Companion Pass status. Simply fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 Qualifying Points in one calendar year.

Besides a lot of purchases on a Southwest credit card or flying on Southwest Airlines, the small business version of this card also has a 50,000 point bonus. Points earned from Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Cards count:

“Companion Pass Qualifying Points” are earned from your revenue flights booked through Southwest Airlines, your points earned on Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Cards, and your base points earned from Rapid Rewards Partners.

All those points will also be worth a good chunk of free flights for the non-Companion.

“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.”

Discover Apple Pay 10% CashBack Bonus – Up to $2,000 Value!

Discover it 14 ImageDiscover credit cards will work with Apple Pay starting on September 16th, 2015. But the big news is that per this press release, those who pay with their Discover card using Apple Pay from 9/16 to 12/31/15 will automatically earn an extra 10% Cashback Bonus on up to $10,000 of in-store purchases. (Discover it Miles, Miles and Escape cardmembers will earn an extra 10 miles per dollar on up to $10,000 of in-store purchases.)

“We are excited for Discover cardmembers to have the ability to use Apple Pay. Rewards have always been important to our cardmembers, and we want to make sure they receive a generous offer for shopping with Discover and Apple Pay,” said Heather Roche, vice president of rewards at Discover. “We want to encourage new and existing Discover cardmembers to add their Discover card to Apple Pay with a few simple clicks using our mobile app, take advantage of this 10% Cashback Bonus, and experience the ease and convenience of using Apple Pay.”

Works with Double Cashback promotion! 10% of $10,000 of purchases is $1,000. But it gets even better for those already people signed up for Double Cashback in 2015, because Discover has confirmed multiple times via their official Twitter channel that it will double this as well! That makes it up to $2,000 in total extra bonuses, on top of the normal cash back of 5% in rotating categories and 1% on everything else (which will also be doubled at the end of the year). If you want to triple-confirm, click here and start a chat session direct with Discover.

Don’t have a Discover card yet? It’s not too late. The promo lasts until the end of 2015, so there is time to apply. New applicants of the Discover card through this referral link can get both a a $50 Cashback Bonus after you make your first purchase within 3 months and get the Double First Year Cash Back promotion. The $50 will then be doubled at the end of the year, so if you keep the card open it becomes effectively a $100 bonus. Click on the application link and then on the “See rates, rewards and other info” link and look for the following details in the fine print:

TERMS OF CASHBACK BONUS OFFER: Get a $50 Cashback Bonus after you make your first purchase within 3 months of being approved. Promotional award will be applied within 8 weeks. The promotional award is in addition to the Cashback Bonus earned on all purchases.

Double First Year Cash Back: After the first 12 consecutive billing periods that your new account is open, we will double all the cash back rewards you’ve earned and apply them to your account in the next billing cycle. You’ve earned rewards when they have posted to your account by the end of the 12th consecutive billing period. You will not receive Double Cash Back if your account is closed or no longer in the cash back reward program as of the award date. This promotional offer may not be offered in the future. This exclusive offer is available only to new cardmembers.

Additional information.

  • Here are all the physical stores where Apple Pay is accepted. It’s too long to copy-and-paste here, but notable ones include Apple Stores (how about 20% off Apple products?), Babies R Us and Toys R US (stack with their own coupons), BJ’s Warehouse, Chevron (20% off gas!), Sports Authority, Staples, Walgreens, and Whole Foods.
  • The quick and direct method on this would be to purchase gift cards in-store, as this will allow you to time-shift your purchases if you didn’t plan on spending $10,000 at those merchants otherwise.
  • According to the official Discover Twitter account, the 10% bonus will post within two statement cycles.
  • Apple Pay works in physical stores with iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch, as well as iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus when they come out. You will need to upgrade to iOS 9 (will be released 9/16) and add your Discover card to the Wallet app.
  • This promotion is so potentially valuable, people without iPhones are trying to figure out if it is worth to buy one just to get in on this promotion. You could also use it as an excuse to upgrade your older iPhone. :) I have read reports that Apple Pay does not require cellular service to work if you have WiFi available, but I haven’t yet done the research myself.

This should be quite a profitable promo, will update after I make my first few purchases. I’ve never used Apple Pay before, I should probably make a practice purchase so I don’t mess things up. 😉

Fidelity 2% Cash Back Credit Cards At Risk?

fidoamexOne of my long-time favorite credit cards is a grandfathered Fidelity College Rewards MasterCard that gives me 2% flat cash back on all purchases. I’m not sure exactly when I first applied for this card, but it was in the early 2000s. The current Fidelity line-up as of September 2015 is still pretty good (if you have a Fidelity account):

All three of these cards, including my legacy MasterCard, are issued by FIA Card Services, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bank of America.

But watch out, this Bloombers article says that Fidelity Investments is considering dropping AmEx, BofA as partners:

Fidelity Investments is considering dropping American Express Co. and Bank of America Corp. to find new partners and better terms for one of the top-rated cash-back credit cards in the U.S., according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. are in talks with Fidelity, vying to replace AmEx on a card that’s been amassing customers for more than six years, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because negotiations are private. AmEx is parting with Costco Wholesale Corp. and JetBlue Airways Corp., and losing the Fidelity deal would affect a key area of growth: facilitating transactions in which another bank is the lender.

Here’s my previous post on how Costco dropped American Express for its future co-branded credit cards.

Does dropping FIA as an issuer mean the Fidelity 2% cash back cards will also get the axe? The 2% cash back graveyard already includes Schwab, Priceline, and Sallie Mae co-branded cards. I’ve racked up thousand of dollars in 2% cash back rewards from Fidelity, which have grown even more my sitting in a tax-deferred Fido 529 account. I think this shows that the co-branding has encouraged me to keep assets with Fidelity, but if they kill the card I will probably roll my 529 funds into another plan like Utah.

Does “better terms” mean better for Fidelity’s profit margin, or better for their customers? By ending the relationship entirely, perhaps that would make it easier for Fidelity to say “sorry, we broke up, all existing cards must go”. On the other hand, maybe Fidelity has the negotiating power to get another issuer on board with 2% cash back? I really can’t see it going any higher than 2%.

If it does end, there will still be cards that can get you 2% in value, but as the article notes the only remaining 2% flat cash back card with no annual fee will be the Citi® Double Cash Card (review). I applied for this new Citi card is a back-up play, in case Citi also closes it to new customers but grandfathers existing users into the 2% cash back. After I paid my Citi bill using my bank account online twice, I can now get the full 2% cash back by requesting my rewards to be sent online back to that same bank account.

Free National Emerald Club Executive Membership

nationalminiWhen I’m paying for it myself, my preferred car rental company is National. Now, when AutoSlash says I’ll save big bucks by going elsewhere, I will, but if the difference is small then I will stick with National. Avis and Hertz are usually way too expensive anyway. Here’s why:

  • If you sign up for their free Emerald Club loyalty program, even at the base tier you get to pick from any car in their “Emerald Aisle” while paying the Mid-Size price level. As a car enthusiast, that adds a bit of fun and excitement to the process, even if it is choosing between a Hyundai and a Chevy compact. At most major airports, you can show up, walk up to the car you like, and drive off without waiting in lines.
  • I’ve never had any issues when returning cars with tiny scratches or dents, so I don’t have to stress about making every scratch noted when picking up the cars.
  • There are often promotions where I can get upgraded to their a higher status level, Emerald Club Executive.

Here is a current sign-up link that will get you free National Emerald Club Executive Status. The upgraded status will last for the rest of this year, plus another 14 months. Note that you have to provide valid Driver’s License information; I put in the wrong information initially because I just wanted to test out the link, but it only worked after putting in the real information. I suppose they check it against some sort of database.

nationalex

Here is a quick summary of the perks of Emerald Club Executive over the base Emerald Club level.

  • Obtaining this status usually requires 12 paid rentals or 40 paid rental days in a calendar year. It is also available to American Express Platinum cardholders.
  • While paying the Mid-Size rate, you can pick from cars in the Executive Aisle, which are a notch nicer than the standard Emerald Club aisle. There are usually full-size cars and SUVs available in the Executive aisle. Off the top of my head, I’ve driven a Chevy Impala, Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300, Ford Mustang, and a GMC Terrain.
  • You’ll always pay for one car class less when you reserve a full-size or luxury car. For example, if you reserve a full-size car, you’ll pay the mid-size price. This discount can be thought of as a “free upgrade”.
  • You can earn a free rental day every six rental credits, as opposed to every 7 credits at the base tier.

Once you obtain your status and/or membership kit, you can also ask for a status match with Hertz. From the qualification criteria, it appears at Emerald Club Executive lines up with Hertz Five Star, while Emerald Club Executive Elite lines up with Hertz President’s Circle.

Ting GSM SIM Cards: Bring Your Own Phone + Referral Credit

Updated September 2015. New Ting customers now get a $50 credit with a referral link (normally $25). GSM SIM cards for bring-your-own-device are also on sale for $5 with free shipping sitewide (I paid $9 + $4 for shipping). Both offers end September 30 at 11:59 ET. More details below.

tinglogTing provides mobile phone service with a “pay-only-for-what-you-use” structure. Think “a la carte” instead of Golden Corral buffet. :) For the last few months, I’ve been beta-testing the new Ting GSM program in my out-of-contract iPhone 5. Just popped in their SIM card and off I went. Supposedly 80% of smartphones now work with GSM service and have SIM card slots. Their GSM SIM card service uses the T-Mobile GSM MVNO network, while their original service is a Sprint CDMA MVNO.

For the month of September 2015, Ting has upped their refer-a-friend bonus to $50 off a device or $50 in Ting credit if you buy used or bring your own phone to Ting. This applies to both GSM and CDMA service. The standard referral offer is $25 off. Here are the highlights:

  • Ting interactive rate calculator to see how much they would charge you. If you are not a power user or have a lot of variability in your usage, Ting can often save money over time. (Tip: You can set alerts or even hard usage caps, so you’ll never exceed a certain level.)
  • Ting phone compatibility checker tool. Bringing over a used GSM or Sprint phone is the best deal in my opinion. You can find a lot of good, cheap GSM phones on the secondary market now, like the Galaxy S series or iPhone 5 or 5S.

Here’s a screenshot of their rate breakdown:

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Here is my referral link. Thanks in advance if you use it! You’ll be saving my parents some money on their bill, as I set them up with Ting service and an old iPhone.

Verizon Wireless New Plans August 2015: Existing Customers Should Compare Prices

In August 2015, Verizon Wireless announced that it was ending 2-year contracts for new customers. Before, you got a ~$450 discount on a new phone but also got locked into a 2-year contract with an inflated monthly plan price. Now, you have to buy your own phone, but the monthly plan is cheaper. The basic monthly breakdown is that you pick a shared data size below and add $20 per phone line. Unlimited talk and text. Data overages are $15 per GB.

verizon_new1

It was supposed to be simple, but there was still a bit of confusion. Here are some clarifications. Verizon customers with grandfathered or legacy plans can keep their plans if they want to. But if they switch to a new plan, they can’t switch back. Verizon customers currently in a 2-year contract can even keep and renew their existing plan with another 2-year contract if they want to (and get a subsidy).

With the previous structure, folks who finished their 2-year contracts and frugally kept their old phone were still stuck paying the inflated monthly plan price. Reader CJ tipped me off that such post-contract customers should try switching to the new plans with lower monthly prices:

Not sure if you saw it, but Verizon finally got rid of 2-year contracts, which means anyone not currently under contract should switch to the new “Verizon Plan” and save a bunch of $$ instantly. I just did, and for 3GB of data my plan went from around $140 for 2 phones down to $80.

If you are currently still under a Verizon contract, you can also switch over to the new plans. If you are currently under a 2-year contract you will have a $40 per phone access fee instead of the new $20 per phone access fee. (That $20 a month is the baked-in subsidy payback. Notice that $20 x 24 months is $480 and the upfront phone discount was ~$450.) Depending on your data plan size, most people will probably see not net change in price, but some may discover a semi-hidden discount.

Bottom line: Verizon has new plans. All customers (on or off contract) should check to see if switching over will save you money. You may or may not discover any savings, but Verizon won’t automatically check for you.

Free FICO Score from Chase Credit Cards

fico_chase_slate0This post provides updated information and instructions regarding the free FICO score that is available to select Chase credit card holders.

Background. Chase started offering free FICO® scores to select US cardholders in March 2015. In addition to your FICO® Score, their Credit Dashboard will provide a score history as well as detail the factors that go into calculating your score. Currently, only their Chase Slate® card offers this feature. There have been no announced plans to expand this feature to other Chase cards.

FICO Score details.

  • FICO Score version: FICO Score 8, or FICO 08. This is the most widely used of the many FICO flavors. Score version is based on various reports and their participation in the FICO Score Open Access Program.
  • Credit bureau: Experian
  • Update frequency: Monthly
  • Limitations: Available only to select Chase credit cards. The current list is only one card:

How to find the score. You can find the free FICO score on your online account access. If you cannot find it and you opened your account prior to April 2015, you may need to contact Chase Customer Service (secure online message is recommended) and specifically request access to the FICO score and Credit Dashboard feature. This feature was first rolled out to new customers and later existing customers.

I don’t have this card myself (anymore), but I did find some images provided by users on the myFICO forums. After logging in, look on your right sidebar for information regarding your “Credit Dashboard”. See screenshots below (click to enlarge):

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You will be shown your current FICO score, a historical score chart, and key factors impacting your score (click to enlarge):

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You will also be shown more detailed information based on your Experian credit report, such as your current credit utilization ratio:

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Fine print:

Your FICO® Score displayed is for your educational purposes and based on data from Experian. It may be different from other credit scores used by Chase and other lenders in making credit decisions. This information is available online only at Chase.com to primary cardmembers with an open account, provided Experian has sufficient credit history in a credit file for a FICO® Score to be generated. Once approved for the Slate card, it may take up to seven days for your FICO® Score and related information to be available on Chase.com. Chase reserves the right to make changes or discontinue this feature at any time. FICO® is a registered trademark of the Fair Isaac Corporation in the United States and other countries.

Free FICO Score from Barclaycard Credit Cards

fico_barc1This post provides updated information and instructions regarding the free FICO score that is available to Barclaycard US credit card holders.

Background. Barclaycard started offering free FICO® scores to select US cardholders in late 2013, gradually increasing the rollout over time. In addition to your FICO® Score, you’ll also see up to 2 factors affecting your score and a historical chart tracking your score after 3 months of history.

FICO Score details.

How to find the score. You can find the free FICO score on your online account access and via the Barclaycard mobile app. You must enroll by visiting the Account Summary page and clicking on the Tools link. You will be prompted to view some information about the complimentary program, and if you are okay with the terms click the “Accept” button. See screenshot below (click to enlarge):

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Here is the latest score, a score meter, and the top two factors impacting your score (click to enlarge):

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They also provide a score history. You can see that the score is not updated every month, but instead the update interval varies between approximately a month and three months (click to enlarge).

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Here is a screenshot from the Barclaycard smartphone app (click to enlarge):

fico_barc5

Fine print:

Barclaycard offers FICO® Score access at its own discretion. FICO® Score access is not a permanent feature of your account and may be removed at any time. To view your FICO® Score, your account with us must be open and active (having activity within the past 150 days). Not all accounts will have a FICO® Score to display including but not limited to, accounts without a United States address, accounts without charging privileges, and accounts opened for 30 days or less.

Your FICO® Score falls into a range from 300 to 850 and is calculated based on TransUnion credit data. Your FICO® Score is not an endorsement or a determination of your qualification for a loan or credit. Credit score models and score ranges may differ by lender.

Amazon Prime: Download Shows and Movies, View Offline For Free

amz_sesame0

Amazon has announced that Amazon Prime members can download select movies and TV episodes for offline viewing, at no additional charge. This works on all Apple iPhones, iPads, and Android-based devices. You may need to update your apps to the most recent version to enable this feature (iOS / Android). Here is their announcement page and the official press release.

Most people agree that Amazon’s catalog is not as good as Netflix, but this is a perfect backup for all those times you don’t have access to WiFi or want to use up mobile data. This would include commutes on public transportation, airplane trips, car rides, or international travel. I always keep a bunch of videos for the kids on our phones and on their iPads.

Here are some sample movies that are eligible for download:

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Captive, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and The Wolf of Wall Street, in addition to exclusives such as Life After Beth, Palo Alto, Starred Up, The Bling Ring, If I Stay, and The Spectacular Now

I am an Amazon Prime member and was happy to see that Sesame Street was eligible for download. This is much easier and cheaper than buying an episode on DVD and ripping it. I downloaded an episode and confirmed that it would play offline in Airplane mode. For the curious, a 1 hour episode at “Better” quality (the middle option) took up 600 mb of space. Here are some screenshots (click to enlarge):

amz_sesame1 amz_sesame2 amz_sesame3 amz_sesame4

One minor concern is that the videos that you download aren’t there “forever”. I can’t find the specific documentation, but you must reconnect the app to WiFi within a certain time period or you will eventually lose the ability to watch the videos offline. I’m guessing this is to check that you are still a paying member of Amazon Prime.

Update: Thanks to commenters below for sharing this link and this link. Combining the information from both:

The time period you have to view a downloaded video while your compatible mobile device is offline varies by title.

You’ll typically have 15 to 30 days to begin watching the video and once you start watching it, you’ll typically have 48 hours to finish watching it. We’ll usually notify you when the viewing period for a title is close to expiring.

Free FICO Score from Citi Credit Cards

citidouble200This post provides updated information and instructions regarding the free FICO score that is available to Citibank credit card holders.

Background. While their plans were announced in late 2014, Citi started offering free FICO scores to select cardholders in January 2015.

FICO Score details.

How to find the score. You can find the free FICO score on your online account access. According to a January 2015 press release, you can also request them to mail it to you. After logging in, look for either the “View your FICO Score” link or click on the “Card Benefits” tab. See screenshot below (click to enlarge):

fico_citi_1

Here are some example screenshots of what information is provided. Here is the latest score, a score meter, and the top two factors impacting your score:

fico_citi_2

They also provide a score history:

fico_citi_3

Here is a visual of the score range to help understand what each range means to lenders:

fico_citi_4

Fine print:

Your FICO® Score is calculated based on data from Equifax using the FICO® Bankcard Score 8 model and may be different from other credit scores. FICO® Scores are intended for and delivered only to the Primary cardmember and only if a FICO® Score is available. Disclosure of this score is not available for all Citi products and Citi may discontinue displaying the score at our discretion.

Free FICO Score from Discover Credit Cards

Discover it 14 ImageThis post provides updated information and instructions regarding the free FICO score that is available to Discover credit card holders.

Background. While a pilot program started in late 2013, Discover started offering a free FICO score to all cardholders in early 2014.

FICO Score details.

  • FICO Score version: FICO Score 8, or FICO 08. This is the most widely used of the many FICO flavors. Score version is directly from TransUnion representative.
  • Credit bureau: TransUnion
  • Update frequency: Monthly
  • Limitations: Available to all Discover consumer cards. This includes:

How to find the score. You can find the free FICO score on your online account access, your paper statements, and the Discover mobile app.

Here are some screenshots from the website (click to enlarge):

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Here is a screenshot from the Discover app (click to enlarge):

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Here is a sample picture of a paper statement with the FICO score on it (click to enlarge):

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Fine print:

FICO® Credit Score Terms: Your FICO® Credit Score and key factors are based on data from TransUnion and may be different from other credit scores. This information is intended for and only provided to Primary cardmembers who have an available score. See Discover.com/FICO about the availability of your score. Your score is provided on the statement for individual accounts and on Discover.com with key factors for individual and joint accounts. You will see up to a year of recent scores starting when you become a cardmember. Discover and other lenders may use different inputs, such as a FICO® Credit Score, other credit scores and more information in credit decisions. This benefit may change or end in the future. FICO is a registered trademark of the Fair Isaac Corporation in the United States and other countries.

Amazon Underground: 450+ Free Android Apps with Free In-App Purchases

amazonundergroundIf you have an Android smartphone or tablet, Amazon just released Amazon Underground, which adds a collection of 450+ apps which have agreed to be 100% free, including all in-app purchases. Amazon will somehow pay the publishers based on how much time you spend use each specific app. You pay nothing.

Looking over the list of available apps, I see an Office document viewer, a photo editor, a mobile PDF scanner, and a bunch of games. I don’t play games much so I can’t tell which are good, but I recognize a few like Cut the Rope, Angry Birds, and Fruit Ninja. There are also several Disney apps for those with young children. I don’t really understand why a Goat Simulator is the #1 featured app, but hey it’s free!