Apple Card – A New Player in the Credit Card Space

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Available this summer, the Apple Card is a co-branded Mastercard issued by Goldman Sachs. This is somewhat of a major move for Apple as the slowing of device sales creates the need for additional diversified income streams.

What Apple Card Offers

Apple Card promises no fees, low interest rates, and a simple rewards structure that delivers the cardholder’s cash back when a purchase posts. The card is tied to the user’s Apple Wallet and doesn’t have a card number or CVV2 code. Apple also promises that Goldman Sachs will not be selling customer information to third party vendors as a nod to the increased privacy and security focus of the card.

The rewards structure is extremely simple and users will see the cash back once a transaction posts. The card offers 3% cash back on purchases made from Apple, 2% cash back on purchase made using Apple Pay, and 1% cash back on purchases using the physical card. While the physical card looks quite impressive, the rewards structure is geared towards using the card through the app. The physical card is intended for use only with vendors that don’t accept Apple Pay.

Interestingly (to me at least), Apple is promising no late fees, no over limit fees, no annual fees, no FX fees, and interest rates that are “among the lowest in the industry.” When pressed on the interest rate Apple responded that the rates are variable and “the lowest rate you might expect today would be 13.24%, all the way up to 24.24%. But these rates are subject to change by this summer’s launch.”

What’s Missing?

There are a few things missing that a “normal” credit card would offer. The first is a sign up bonus and Apple has no intention of offering one. Second, the ability to add authorized users will not be present when the card is launched and it is unclear if that functionality will be added in the future. Last, and most important, this card will only be available to those with iPhones that support Apple Pay. Due to the need for Apple’s proprietary Security Element it is unlikely that we will see this card available on non-iOS devices.

My Personal Take

Apple loves fanfare and has a rabid following and because of that, this card got a lot of press this week. Take a step back though, and look at what the card offers in terms of rewards, sign up bonus (or lack thereof), interest rate, etc. If Citi or Chase issued this exact card, would the reception be the same? Would you be excited? I wouldn’t be and this card doesn’t seem to provide much to me. We know that we can do far better than 3% cashback on Apple devices by using gift cards (easy 4x-5x) AND you can sometimes stack with portals for a nice double dip. On top of that, transferable rewards offer outsized value when compared to simple cash back.

I will say that I do appreciate the security and privacy moves that the virtual card offers and can’t say that I have any complaints about the lack of fees. The interest rates on the other hand are in no way groundbreaking and are in-line with essentially every major credit card on the market.

There are two questions I have regarding this product: Will Apple be able to keep their no-fee promise – and if so, at what point do they start closing accounts for consistent abuse of late payments and over limit activity? The second question is what sort of credit score will be necessary for approval on this card? Credit scoring is a solid indicator of behavior, but for a card that offers noncompetitive rewards will high credit score individuals accept noncompetitive interest rates as well?

What are your thoughts on this new product? Do you think other cards will follow with fee reductions? Do you plan on getting this card? Let us know in the comments or on the Credit Card 101 Facebook group!

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Strategies to Meet Minimum Spending Requirement to Earn Sign Up Bonus on new Credit Cards

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Does your excitement of getting a shiny new credit card and an excellent sign-up bonus boil down quickly with the thought of meeting a high spending requirement? Are you someone who holds themselves back from applying for great cards because of a high spend requirement? You might want to think again and consider these options to quickly meet your minimum spend requirement.

PS: I won’t talk about methods where a huge sum of money is blocked for a couple of months or so. Most of these ideas are reliable (though, as always, YMMV), and with fairly quick turnaround time.

1.    Bluebird/Serve

Your mileage will vary highly based on the store, location and the customer service representative assisting you when trying to load these giftcards to serve or converting them into money orders as they are pin enabled. If they say you can’t do it, simply walk away without arguing much. It also helps to start slow, with say a $100 load or a $500 load. You can pay back your credit card directly from the funds loaded on to the serve account or even send payments to Mortgage lenders, car payments, utility companies that do not accept credit cards, IRS to name a few.

Serve and Bluebird are prepaid re-loadable cards issued by AMEX, and they basically act as a debit card. The way to use this to your benefit is to buy visa gift cards from a store like Staples or Office Depot/Office Max when they run the no-fee visa gift card promotion using your credit card (Ink Business Cash gives you a 5% return, which makes this a profitable venture). You then visit a Walmart and use these prepaid visa gift card to load your Serve card. Not all Walmart are friendly with the use of visa gift cards to load these prepaid cards. You can buy Visa giftcards from giftcards.com for $500 denomination (limit $2500 a day including fees) and make sure to go through a website like Topcashback, Ebates and Mr. Rebates to get back 1% of the purchase price bringing down the cost of these giftcards. Make sure to not purchase Mastercard brands as they are difficult to liquidate with these strategies.

Topcashback offers 1% cashback on Visa Giftcards

Amit used sign up bonus from the Hyatt Credit Card for 50K points and Free night certificates with the old Hyatt card (good for any Hyatt worldwide now limited to category 1-4) to spend 5 nights at Hyatt Ziva Cancun.

2.    Plastiq

A lot of expenses, like rent, utility payment, etc. usually require you to pay via a debit card or check and do not generally accept a credit card. In cases like these, you can use a service called Plastiq (this link will get you $500 fee free dollars). You can make these payments through Plastiq, which will charge your credit card and make your payments, usually for a fee that ranges between 2-3%. This method is usually only used when you are very short of meeting your minimum spend and will lose out on a bigger sign-up bonus rather than the 3% fee. We also recommend keeping an eye on their promotions, which offers fee-free transactions frequently.

Do check out our detailed post on Plastiq .

You can visit the leaning tower using points from several portals such as Ultimate Rewards, Thank you points, membership rewards, City National bank Rewards
Business Class seat North America to Italy for 55K United miles just from one sign-up bonus

3.    Gift Card Reselling

Most online and brick-and-mortar stores, especially grocery chains, have discounted gift cards every now and then or provide you with a multiplier rate on fuel-points. You can simply resell the gift cards on portals like raise.com, gyft.com, cardpool.com etc. and will break even or even make a slight profit with your discounted gas and the money you received from selling the gift card. In fact, Amit never pays a full dollar to top off two of his cars. You can actually profit by purchasing these gift cards if your local store has a rewards program that earns points towards groceries or fuel.

Note: It is never a good idea to head to a store and get thousands of $$$ worth of gift cards. Please be cautious especially with American Express, who do not want their customers buying gift cards to meet minimum spend requirements for the sign-up bonus.

4.    More Gift Card Tricks

Additionally, not only can you use gift cards to resell or for personal use, but you can also buy visa gift cards and convert them to a Money Order in a store like Walmart. These are highly YMMV, depending on the cashier and store-policy.

5.    Tax Payments

If you’d like to meet minimum spend and are okay to spend some money on fees, you can pay federal taxes using any of the sources that the IRS mentions on this link. One of the processors on the IRS website charges a 1.87% fee and paying a small fee out of pocket may make sense for some based on the card used and sign up bonus offered. Not only can this help you meet MSR but also provides some float on the funds.

We highly recommend a card like the Amex Blue Business Plus Card where you can earn 2 MR per dollar spent, up to $50,000 per year, in any category.

6.    Everyday Spending

Perhaps the most uncreative way to meet your minimum spend requirement, but if you are only a few hundred dollars short of meeting the spend requirement, it might make sense to hit your nearest wholesale club or grocery store and stock up on non-perishable items. If you have friends or family who are okay with you paying for them in return for cash or a bank transfer, this could minimize the effort required to meet the spend requirement by doing things that you already do.

7.    Spend With Delayed Reimbursements

We previously covered a couple of methods that the members of the Credit Card 101 community are using. The first and more consistent option is to use RebateKey, where you buy products from Amazon and get refunded for the cost of the product after a month. The rebates on these products vary and some are 100% free. Even if you do not have a need the products can be donated to charity or given our as gifts.

The second option is to buy special edition coins that the US Mint releases time and again and sell them, at least at break even, though most times it’s at a decent profit. PFS Buyers club is one company that several members of Credit Card 101 have successfully used in the past.

We’ve covered both these methods extensively on our website here for RebateKey and PFS Buyers Club.

JAL Business class can be scored from North America to Japan for 80k to 90k miles depending on program

8. Electricity and Gas Bills

To specifically pay for your gas and electricity bills, be sure to check Arcadia Power . If you sign-up for Arcadia energy, they will source 50% of the energy from renewable resources, and as an incentive eat up the credit card fee that your utility provider would charge otherwise. This helps you earn points on your card, buys you time with the payment, and save the environment. All this without spending an additional cent!

9. Flipping Items on Amazon and eBay

The founder of Credit Card 101, Amit Desai has been using this strategy for the last two plus years to not only generate profit but a whole lot of credit card miles and points. Again, there is risk involved with starting any business and credit card points should not be the sole reason for starting any business, let alone e-commerce, with the risks involved. But if you ever want to learn more on how to get started, Amit recorded a podcast for Side Hustle Nation

We have specialists in our Premium Group who can guide you with the most ideas discussed above. You can also learn other tips, tricks, and opportunities to help increase credit card rewards.

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Brexit and Travel

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We are only a handful of days away from Brexit and at this point the British Parliament still has yet to approve a deal. So, what does this mean? The short answer is we don’t really know. What we do know is that one of three things will happen on March 29th – 1) Parliament agrees to a deal with the EU, 2) The UK requests an extension, or 3) The UK crashes out with what is known as a “Hard Brexit.” While many articles could be written on each of these scenarios, we are going to focus on some of the travel related aspects and how your trip(s) may be affected.

Businesses and certain government entities are preparing for the unknown. Airline caterer Gate Gourmet is stockpiling meals in the UK to avoid an potential disruption while Heathrow is making sure they have enough of the various EU-sourced goods that allow them to properly do their jobs, such as gloves and scanners.

British Airways stated that customers should expect to see no disruptions of service and that they will continue to service all of their destinations regardless of whether a deal is reached. easyJet created a new company, easyJet Europe and physically moved planes to the continent as the uncertainty grows. Going back to BA, they are in an interesting spot, as their parent company IAG has stakes in a number of European airlines – Iberia, Aer Lingus, Norwegian, and Vueling. With IAG’s headquarters located squarely in the UK – they are currently decidedly British. IAG is currently working to ensure that it is seen as a European company post-Brexit in a no-deal scenario to protect its European routes.

The part that most readers will care about is the future state of air travel to and from the UK. The best case scenario (in my opinion) is that everything stays the same. In a no-deal scenario would certainly lead to higher fares and immigration issues. On top of those unwanted affects, there is the potential for as many as 5 million tickets to be canceled due to flight caps that could be imposed in the face of no-deal.

Citizens of the United States will need to obtain travel authorization to enter the EU beginning in 2021 and a no-deal scenario would certainly place British citizens in the same boat. While the financial burden would amount to under $10 USD for a 3 year authorization, this process and cost is a far cry from the free movement to which British citizens are currently familiar.

I am no expert on any of these matters, but from where I sit it appears that the uncertainty isn’t receding and anxiety is only growing. Perhaps one of you smarter readers can figure something out for Europe??

…so, if you want to read the 585 page agreement as it currently stands, please go right ahead!

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2019 State of the Wallet Address

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I tend to do a lot of my personal financial reviews at the beginning of the year – preparing my taxes, checking my retirement investments, managing recurring bills (cable, cell phone, etc.), and looking at my open credit cards. While I’m sure you all want to hear about my home office deduction, my 1099-INTs, and the like…I’ll just keep this focused on the credit cards. 

I broke down my analysis into three sections:

  1. Open Cards I am Keeping
  2. Open Cards I am Closing/Converting
  3. Cards I am Considering

There are so many fantastic products available to us these days and with every company competing for market share there is a lot of overlap among products.  Each reader has his/her preferred airlines, hotels, and lifestyle needs and for me there are a few important items to note. First, I live in a secondary market (Richmond, Va), so our airport has no lounges, and I have no airline loyalty.  Because of this, co-branded airlines cards don’t have as much value as they would for someone consistently flying American Airlines out of Charlotte, for example. Second, I value transferable points above all else and look to maximize value in that way as opposed to maximizing cash back.  Third, diversification is important, as to allow for more options when it comes time to book award travel.

Open Cards I am Keeping

American Express Gold – In its revamped form, this is a recent addition to my wallet.  With its 4x dining and 4x grocery (up to $25k) per year, it makes the short list.  To add icing on the cake, the airline ($100) and dining credits ($120) take quite a bite out of the $250 annual fee. While the card also offers 3x on airfare and 1x on everything else, this card doesn’t see action in those areas

American Express Platinum – I recently wrote an article on why this card is so valuable to me.  It simply comes down to the fact that while I don’t do a lot of purchasing on the card (aside from airfare at 5x), the benefits offered by American Express make the $550 annual fee seem insignificant.

American Express Blue Business Plus – With no annual fee and 2x on all purchases up to $50k per year, there is nothing not to love about this card

American Express Bonvoy Brilliant – This is the odd one out on my “keep” list.  The earn rates aren’t competitive, it has a high fee (albeit with some decent perks), and I think the name is stupid, but this card performs two very important duties for me.  First, I do enjoy SPG Marriott Bonvoy points as they offer access to unique transfer partners with an amazing array of award chart sweet spots.  The second thing this card provides is a nice path to Platinum Elite status.  By spending $75k the cardholder obtains that status for the remainder of the year and for the next calendar year.  While I don’t stay in hotels as often as most, it is nice to have that in my back pocket. This card may be jettisoned if Marriott continues to water down the statuses and have inconsistent delivery of benefits from their hotels.

Chase Ink Plus – As long as Chase continues to keep this card “active” it’ll have a home in my wallet.  Offering 5x on phone, cable, internet, and office supply stores up to $50k per year, it is easy to justify the $95 fee

Chase Ink Cash – Ink Cash matches the Ink Plus in categories and while it does have a lower cap at $25k per year, there is no fee, making this card a no-brainer.

Chase Ink Preferred – Offering 3x on up to $150k annually on travel, shipping, phone/cable/internet, and online advertising provides a great way to pull in major Ultimate Rewards hauls each year.  It also offers the most comprehensive cell phone protection of any major credit card.

Chase Freedom – Rotating quarterly 5x categories capped at $1500 per quarter, the ability to pool points between accounts, and no annual fee make this an easy keeper

Balance Transfer Cards – I hold a slew of other no-fee cards as well that have very high limits that I don’t intend to close.  These cards routinely send me access checks which can allow me quickly to invest in something or create cash if needed.  Additionally, the high limits and 0 balance currently on these cards helps keep my overall credit utilization in check, leading to a more stable high credit score.

Open Cards I am Closing/Converting

American Express Everyday – While I have no specific plans to close this card (as it has no annual fee), it only offers 2x on grocery up to $6k per year and a 20% bonus on all points if 30 or more purchases are made in a calendar month.  My plan with this card is to potentially convert to another Amex product or wait to see if something new comes out that is worthy of an Amex slot.

American Express Hilton Ascend – This card made the long march from a Citi Hilton Honors to an Amex Hilton Surpass to now its current form.  I can see where some would get value from this card, but for me it is just taking up room and has an annual fee (that I have been able to get waived for the past 2 years).  It its current state it doesn’t add much value to me, but I am still contemplating what my hotel moves will be for the latter half of 2019 into 2020

Chase Sapphire Preferred – For some it is probably shocking to see this card in this section of my list but compared to the other items on this list and my spend patterns, this card is eclipsed in each of it’s spend categories by another card with only 2x dining and travel.

Citi Premier/Prestige – I am lumping these two together as I will only be closing one, but at this stage I don’t know which.  Why am I keeping one?  Although Citi has some odd rules about combining ThankYou points, keeping open a card that allows access to transfer partners is important.  The Citi Premier has an annual fee of $95 and for that price point, some solid earn rates with 3x travel and 2x dining and entertainment.  The Citi Prestige is a premium card with a $495 fee with some very solid earn rates (5x airfare, 5x dining, 3x hotels and cruises), but the big winner on this card is the coveted 4th night free benefit.  With Citi limiting this benefit to two uses per year, it does put a damper on what was a 4th night bonanza, but the $250 travel credit is still very much alive.  At this point I am leaning towards keeping the Citi Prestige and dumping Premier.

Cards I am Considering

Citi Rewards+ – If you haven’t heard of this card, listen up!  This is hands down the best points card for a person that makes a lot of small purchases.  It earns 2x gas and grocery (capped at $6k per year), but the kicker is that all purchases are rounded up to the nearest 10 points.  That $4 coffee = 10 points, the $1 soda = 10 points, the $0.01 Amazon reload = 10 points. You COULD say that this card earns 1000x on certain purchases!  Regardless, this is a great card and since I haven’t opened OR closed Premier or Prestige in the past 24 months, I AM eligible for the bonus. 

Chase Ink Unlimited – I have every other Ink card under the sun, so what’s one more?  The reality here is that when I’ve maxed out my Amex Blue Business Plus, am not working on a sign-up bonus, and am not purchasing in a category with a bonus this card (and Freedom Unlimited) offer the best value at 1.5x on everything.  What is even better?  This is a no fee card and the points can be pooled with my other Chase accounts.

American Express Hilton Aspire – I have the Ascend card and it isn’t do anything for me now.  If I move away from Marriott, the EASIEST place to go is Hilton, as the Aspire card has a slew of great benefits and credits and provides Hilton Diamond status just for holding the card.  While it is a less generous program, many of the changes to Marriott are lowering the value of the program, so if I can grab status for no spend, that is a better bargain in my opinion.

Chase World of Hyatt – Much like the Aspire if I move to Hilton, this is card to grab if I move to Hyatt.  Hyatt’s top-level status – Globalist is the best of the top tier statuses out there, but Hyatt doesn’t have as many properties, so sometimes you have to go out of your way to stay in their properties.  The spend required to hit that top tier status is at least $125k, depending on your current Hyatt status.  Earn rates on this card aren’t fantastic, but along the way to gaining status there are multiple free night certificates to be picked up.  For a fee of only $95 per year, it may be the way I go.

Conclusion

There you have it…I have bared my um…wallet?…to you all and I’m curious as to what you all think.  On what points do you agree?  Where do you think I’m a total idiot (let’s keep it specific to credit card and points to save on time)?  What would you do differently? 

I’ll be revisiting this later this year when I have a better idea as to what I’m going to do with hotel loyalty.

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February Catch-Up

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Some quick highlights (and lowlights) from the month of February…

American Airlines Credit Cards to Lose 10% Points Rebate

One of my favorite benefits of holding AA credit cards (Barclays or Citi) is that they offered a 10% rebate on redeemed miles up to 10k per year.  This more than offset the $89, 95, or $99 fee and I am extremely sad to see this go.  The silver lining here is that some new perks are coming to the cards on May 1 including additional statement credits, companion tickets, and a new program called “Flight Cents,” all of which we be detailed in an upcoming post.

TWA Hotel Now Taking Reservations

JFK’s iconic Eero Saarinen designed TWA Terminal has been turned into what has to be the most AvGeek hotel in the world and it looks stunning.  Not only is it conveniently located to JFK (it used to be a terminal!), but offers chic accommodations that harken back to the golden age of jet travel.  Rates are starting at $249 per night and rooms for May 15th and onward, when the hotel officially opens.

9 Airlines Added to TSA PreCheck Program

TSA added nine new airlines to the PreCheck program: Air India, Asiana Airlines, China Airlines, Eastern Airlines, Elite Airways, EVA Air, Japan Airlines, TAP Air Portugal, and Volaris.  This brings the grand total to 65 airlines. Click here to see all 65 participating airlines.

Airbus Announces End of A380 Production

Airbus formally announced the end of A380 production earlier this month. First flying in 2005, production will end in 2021 with roughly 250 airplanes having been built, far fewer than the originally anticipated 1,000+. While this move hardly comes as a surprise, it is still sad to see this iconic plane end production. With the introduction of lighter and more fuel efficient wide-bodies such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, the need for jumbo jets has decreased and smaller markets have been opened up leading to a pull-back from the hub and spoke system. While the A380s and 747s will be in the skies for years to come, their numbers are dwindling. Don’t worry too much though, as many great opportunities still exist to fly these fantastic planes.

AirAsia to Open Fast-Food Restaurant Serving Airline Food

This is a bit of a weird one, but AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes announced on Larry King Now that the airline plans to open up a fast food restaurant called Santan. The restaurant will be serving the same food that is available from their on-board menu. While not every meal I have had on an airplane has been bad, there are very few items which I have actively desired while on the ground. That being said, I haven’t ever flown the Malaysia-based AirAsia, so can’t speak directly to their food. This could just be a marketing stunt, but I am certainly intrigued.

Ebates to Allow the Earning of American Express Membership Rewards

Is “game-changer” too strong a statement to use here? Ebates, which is a popular cash-back site is now offering new users the one-time choice to earn cash-back or Membership Rewards. With this change, the Ebates Visa credit card offers a minimum 3x on online purchases made through Ebates, which makes this card arguably the best card for online purchases for which one can apply. A full write up on this change will be forthcoming in a separate post.

Simon Mall Increases Daily Gift Card Purchase Limit to $25K

It is rare that a company makes FRIENDLY changes to the world of manufactured spending, but in the case of Simon Mall, they have done just that. The prior limit had been $10k per person per day and while this bump in purchase limit probably doesn’t change the behavior of most people, it is nice to see a positive change. This could be a sign of more friendly changes from Simon Mall.

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Start saving with Qapital Banking App for Automated Savings plus $20 Sign-Up Bonus and $20 Referrals

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Qapital is a free banking app that can save you money automatically towards your financial goals. Right now they are running a promotion until Feb 15th and for everyone who signs up with a referral link will earn $20 sign-up bonus after linking a checking account and making a first deposit. You can also refer others and when they sign-up using your link they can earn $20 as well.

You have to first download the Qapital app. Next, create an account and link a checking account to Qapital app (enter login credentials). You can set up a savings “goal” and a “rule” (how much to be deposited each week etc to qualify for the $20 bonus). As soon as the first deposit is made as per your rule you will be awarded with the $20 sign-up bonus. Makes sure you use a referral link for this offer to be valid as simply downloading the app from playstore will not trigger the bonus.

You can leave your referral links in the comments below or use our link here

Hat tip – DoC

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2018 With My American Express Platinum Card

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Unless you are brand new to the points game, you know that the Platinum Card from American Express (in any of its varieties) arguably offers some of the best benefits of any card on the market.  What scares off most people is the high annual fee of $550 (with up to 3 authorized users for $175 per year) – but should that fee scare you off?

There are a lot of articles that extol the virtues of the benefits, but to what end does the average cardholder use them – and at what volume must they be used to “break even” on the fees?   Like most, there are some benefits on which I rely heavily and others which I never touch.  I tracked my usage in 2018 to see what sort of value I was getting from this card.  My results are below:

Fees and Users

I have the personal version of the American Express Platinum Card and added both of my parents as authorized users, so my fees  come to $725 ($550+175) annually.  As authorized users my parents have all the benefits that I as the primary account holder do with the exception of the airline, Uber, and Saks Fifth Avenue credits.  For this usage review I have included the activity of all cardholders.

Annual Credits

The personal Platinum Card offers a $200 airline credit, a $200 Uber credit, and $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit ($50 in 2018 as it started in the latter half of last year).  I took full advantage of these credits in 2018 netting me a value of: $450

Lounge Access

My favorite benefit of the Platinum Card is the most comprehensive lounge access offered by any credit card on the market and while 2018 was not a banner year for travel for me or for my parents we made great use of the lounges while traversing the globe.  I’ve listed out the number of visits, calculated to include the primary card member, authorized users, and guests.

Centurion Lounge Visits:               23

Delta Lounge Visits:                        15

Priority Pass Lounge Visits:           26

Escape Lounge Visits:                        3

TOTAL:                                                67

Coming up with a “value” for lounge access can be tricky.  Some lounges offer high end craft cocktails, cuisine designed by famous chefs, and spa services, while others offer sub-par wifi, make your own instant noodles, and hard plastic seating.  I’ve always felt that the value is conservatively $20 per visit, which considers what even a basic small meal or snacks and drinks would cost at the airport.  Using that figure, the annual value from the lounge visits comes to: $1,340

Statuses

One of the more unique perks offered by the Platinum Card is status with both Marriott and Hilton hotel chains and with Avis, Hertz, and National car rental chains.

I didn’t spend many nights in chain hotels last year, but in each of the two nights I spent at Hilton properties, I received free breakfast as a Hilton Gold member.  I value each breakfast at about $15.  While Marriott Golds do not receive complimentary breakfast, I did receive a suite upgrade for 2 nights (which also included club lounge access).  Based on the going rates at the property, the upgrade was worth $107 for each night for a total of $214.

When it comes to rental cars, each of the statuses provided offer similar benefits – accelerated earning of rewards, a one class bump when you rent a car, and some form of streamlined check in process.  Sadly, I utilized the Avis status as my car got hit and I needed a rental for two weeks.  In this case, I actually paid for the rental (which was fully reimbursed by the other driver’s insurance) with my Chase Ink Preferred as it earns 3x on rental cars and offers very good rental car insurance, but was able to take advantage of the bump to a full size vehicle at no additional cost.  The price difference was about $10 per day for a total value of $140.

The total value from provided statuses: $384

Amex Offers

American Express provides targeted discounts and points earning bonuses on all of their cards which can add significant value for any account holder.  While 2018 saw Amex tighten up their offer redemption rules and only allow offers to be used once per individual across all accounts, the value is still one of the easiest harness.  In 2018 on my Platinum Card alone, Amex Offer discounts saved me: $944.85

While the Platinum Card earns 5x on airfare purchases, it only earns 1x on all other spend.  However, with Amex Offers there are opportunities to boost earnings through specific vendors.  For me, the most lucrative of these additional points multipliers were for Best Buy and Amazon.  The additional points I earned through the Amex Offers amounted to: 41,426

Other

While there are many other benefits offered the only other one I used this year was the free ShopRunner membership.  For those that don’t know ShopRunner is a subscription service that allows for free 2-day shipping at many online retailers; think of it as Amazon Prime for a bunch of different retailers.  I made five purchases at vendors that partnered with ShopRunner and received free 2-day shipping which in total amounted to savings of: $73.18

Final Tally

Annual Credits:                 $450.00

Lounge Access:                 1,340.00

Statuses:                               384.00

Amex Offers:                        944.85

Other:                                       73.18

Total:                                $3,192.03

On top of nearly $3,200 I also received the additional 41,426 Membership Rewards points above the base earn of 5x on airfare and 1x on everything else.

What Else Could I Have Used?

With so many benefits it can be easy to lose track of what all is available on the card.  This year I did not take advantage of the Global Entry credit as I am enrolled through 2019.  I did not use any of the insurance items for travel, baggage, car rental, purchase protection, warranty extension, or return protection, nor did I use the roadside assistance.  I didn’t take advantage of the concierge service or any of the offerings through the Fine Hotels & Resorts program, the Hotel Collection, or the Global Dining Collection.  As I type out all of benefits that I didn’t use I begin to feel as though I left so much on the table.

Conclusion

The Platinum Card offers outsized value for its $550 annual fee and that large number shouldn’t scare off new applicants.  While this card is rarely the first card I pull out when making a purchase, it is a staple in my wallet and last years $3,192.03 is absolutely the reason why.  If you’re thinking about applying, the normal sign-up bonus on the personal card is 60,000 Membership Reward points, while the business card is typically 75,000, while occasionally targeted offers are sent out for 100,000 points.

In the interest of full disclosure, we will earn a referral bonus for anyone that is approved from our affiliate.  These are publicly available offers and all claims made in this post as of the posting date can be found in the offer language for the card.  We only provide the best publicly available offers and thank you for your continued support.

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January Catch-Up

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At the beginning of each month we will be writing a “catch-up” article highlighting important or noteworthy events from the prior month. While this certainly won’t be a recap of everything that happened across all airlines, hotels, banks, and credit cards, the hope is that we will be able to touch on the things about which you should be aware as well as others that may have slipped through the cracks in the prior month.

In no particular order…

1) American Express and Chase Issuing 1099s for Referral Bonuses

Starting on January 30, some American Express and Chase customers that had received referral bonuses for having friends/family sign up with their links in exchange for receiving points have reported receiving 1099s from the banks.

This is problematic as the banks have effectively applied a valuation to the points given. This reddit thread shows several examples and breaks down the valuations.

What can you do about it? First and foremost, consult your CPA or a tax professional. For some individuals it may have no impact, while for others that have a lot of referrals it could add thousands of dollars of income.

2) Bank of America Adds 24-Month Language to Certain Credit Cards

Similar to restrictions places on bonuses by Citi and Chase, Bank of America joins in by adding restrictions to four of their cards. Below are the cards and the specific terms.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature : “This card will not be available to you if you currently have or have had the card in the preceding 24 month period.”

Bank of America Premium Rewards: “This Premium Rewards card will not be available to you if you currently have or have had a Premium Rewards card in the preceding 24 month period.”

Cash Rewards: “This Cash Rewards card will not be available to you if you currently have a Cash Rewards card unless you have had that Cash Rewards card for at least 24 months.”

Travel Rewards: “This Travel Rewards card will not be available to you if you currently have a Travel Rewards card unless you have had that Travel Rewards card for at least 24 months.”

3) Herb Kelleher, Founder of Southwest Airlines Passes Away at 87

An innovator in the air travel space, Herb Kelleher passed away on January 3, 2019. Southwest published this notice honoring their founder and his accomplishments.

4) American Express Restricting Centurion Lounge Access

Beginning March 22, Centurion Lounges will become pre-departure lounges only. From their website:

NOTE: FOR PLATINUM CARD MEMBERS ONLY The Centurion Lounge is a day of departure lounge. We will not admit arriving Platinum Card Members with boarding passes for flights that have just landed. We will admit Platinum Card Members with layovers or connecting flights who produce proof of connecting flight.


 We will not admit Platinum Card Members more than 3 hours before the departure time on the Platinum Card Member’s same-day, confirmed boarding pass. This does not apply to Platinum Card Members with a connecting flight.

 
 We will admit children under 2 years of age free of charge, provided an accompanying parent or guardian is able to produce a “lap infant” boarding pass or proof of age. “

I think this is a reasonable move for American Express to make and will help to control overcrowding while not affecting most lounge users. These changes were inevitable as the number Platinum Card holders has increased and the lounges are some of the best in the United States.

5) Citi Prestige Begins to Rollout New Features

As of January 4, the Citi Prestige earns 5x on dining and airfare and 3x on cruising. While these changes have been viewed as positive, more changes are coming.

  • May 1: Cell Phone protection will be added
  • August 31: The 2x entertainment category will be dropped
  • September 1: The highly coveted “Fourth Night Free” benefit will be capped to two uses per year
  • September 1: The annual fee will increase to $495
  • September 1: Fixed-value redemptions of ThankYou points using the Citi Prestige drops from 1.25 cents to only 1 cent per point.

This is quite a mixed bag of changes and the strategy for maximizing the card’s value becomes slightly different as well. I will be looking closely at my usage of the card in its new state and will be making a determination before my annual fee comes due (mid year) as to whether or not I’ll be keeping this card. The fourth night free benefit has been majorly devalued, but still offers extremely high potential value compared to the annual fee.

6) Citi Offers New Fee-Free Rewards+ Credit Card

Highlights of this new card include:

  • 15,000 points sign-up bonus
  • Rounds up purchases to the nearest 10 ThankYou points
  • Earns 2x ThankYou points at gas stations and supermarkets, on the first $6,000 per year (similar to the Amex Everyday card)
  • Provides 10% rebate on the first 100,000 ThankYou points redeemed each year

Be aware that the language regarding the bonus covers the Premier AND Prestige card: Bonus ThankYou® Points are not available if you received a new cardmember bonus for Citi Rewards+℠, Citi ThankYou® Preferred, Citi ThankYou® Premier/Citi Premier℠ or Citi Prestige®, or if you have closed any of these cards, in the past 24 months.

7) Marriott Overhauls Co-Brand Credit Cards

This visual shows the current and new cards for both American Express and Chase.

While there are a lot of changes as a result of the acquisition of SPG by Marriott and the rebranding to “Bonvoy,” the most immediate for bonus seekers will be the fact that both the SPG Amex and the Marriott Premier Plus Business cards will stop accepting new applicants on February 12. So if you have been considering grabbing those while they still exist, act fast!

In the interest of full disclosure, we will earn a referral bonus for anyone that is approved from our links.  These are publicly available offers and all claims made in this post as of the posting date can be found in the offer language for the card.  We only provide the best publicly available offers and thank you for your continued support.

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Unique way to Earn Credit Card Points and Profit

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This is a unique (slightly unconventional) way to earn credit card points and small profit. There will be an opportunity to purchase coins from US Mint tomorrow (1/24/18) at 12:00 pm sharp. PFS buyers club (https://bit.ly/2B0w4ND) is offering to purchase these coins from you for a small profit and you get to earn credit card points as well.

I have done several deals with them in the last two years and found them to be very reliable with payment (paid via paypal as friends family).

Please register only if you are able to complete the deal. The process is very simple – You opt in, they will send you instructions, be on the computer tomorrow at 12 pm EST on 1/24, the coins get shipped to your home (1 per household), do not open the box, slap the label PFS provides you with and drop it to Fedex. You will receive payment 24-48 hours after delivery.

Between the three deals, you’ll be able to spend over $2,200 and receive over $50 in commissions. If you’d like to register below is the link (affiliate).

https://pfsbuyersclub.com/Account/Register?referral=DZJF3UYP

Suggested cards to use –

ATT&T access more – 3x Thank you points
Chase Ink Unlimited – 1.5X UR Points
2% Cash back cards like Spark business, Venture, Barclay Arrival plus

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8 Ways to Redeem Amex Membership Rewards – Beginners Guide

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What are the cards that earn Membership Rewards?

American Express Membership Rewards is the rewards program offered by American Express. Membership Rewards Points (MR points) is the currency of this program and is also called flexible currency program due to the wide range of redemption

There are several cards available that offer Membership Reward Points as the rewards. Here is a summary of all the cards and a short summary of its benefits

Card NameAnnual FeeKey Features
Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card$95Use your Card 30 or more times on purchases in a billing period and earn 50% more points on those purchases less returns and credits

3X at US Supermarkets

2X at US Gas stations

1X on all other purchases
Amex EveryDay Credit Card$0Make 20 or more purchases with your Card in a billing period and earn 20% extra points

2X at US Supermarkets

1X on all other purchases
American Express Gold Card$2504X at US Restaurants and Supermarkets

3X on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com

$120 Dining credit

$100 Airline fee credit
Platinum Card from American Express$5505X on airfare booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel and on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com


$200 credit towards incidental expenses with chosen Airline.

$200 in Annual Uber Credits

Access to Amex Centurion Lounges
Priority Pass Select Membership
Delta Skyclub (When flying Delta)

$100 credit towards GlobalEntry
American Express Green card$0 for first year and $95 afterwards2X at Amextravel.com

1X on all other purchases
American Express Business Platinum Card (From Feb 01, 2019)$5955X on airfare and prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com

1.5X on purchases above $5000

$200 credit towards incidental expenses with choosen Airline.

$200 in statement credits towards Dell Purchases

Access to Amex Centurion Lounges

Priority Pass Select Membership

Delta Skyclub (When flying Delta)

Get 35% of the points back when you book flights through amextravel.com and pay with Membership rewards

Hilton Honors and Marriott Gold status

One year Complimentary Access to Weworks
American Express Business Gold Card$2954X points on 2 select categories where you spend the most each month

Get 25% points back, after you book a flight using Pay with Points

Upto one year of free G Suite Basic

Upto one year free of Zip Recruiter Standard
American Express Blue Business Plus credit card$02X on all purchases (Upto $50,000 in purchases each year)

There are lot of ways one could earn Membership Rewards, thanks to the whole array of cards (Personal & Small business) available.

Let us review the options available to redeem them.

  1. Transfer to Airline Partners

American Express membership Rewards can be transferred to 15 Airline partners. Here is a summary of all the transfer partners and the ratios that you could transfer MR Points.

These partners span across all major airline alliances along with the independent airline loyalty programs like Etihad Guest and Emirates Skywards. There are occasional transfer bonuses as well, which will further enhance the value of your Membership Reward points

Transferring to Airline partners and redeeming for premium cabins gives best value for your MR points.

Here are a few examples:

Sydney – Abu Dhabi in A380 First Apartment for 135K Etihad Guest Miles
Los Angeles to Singapore for 118K Krisflyer Miles in First Suites

2. Transfer to Hotel Partners

You can also transfer MR points to 3 hotel loyalty programs. Here is the summary

This is a good way to top up your account if you are short of few points for an award or depending on the redemption value, you could transfer the points needed for an entire award.

Enjoy an Overwater Villa for 95,000 Hilton Honors Points (47,500 MR Points) at Conrad Maldives

3. Get 1.25 cents per point with American Express Platinum Card for Schwab

If you hold a Schwab brokerage account, you could get a different version of the American Express Platinum card exclusive for Scwab account holders. Annual fee is $550 with the same benefits like Airline fee credit, Uber credit . You are still eligible for this card, even if you hold regular american express platinum card.

The beauty of this card, is the ability to redeem your MR points at 1.25 cents/point in to your Schwab account. Since Amex pools all the MR points in to one place, you could redeem your MR points across all cards at 1.25 cents per point.

Fancy another sign up bonus?

4. Book Travel

You could use MR points to book travel with Amextravel.com, you need a minimum of 5,000 MR points to redeem for travel.

You could book flights and hotels through Amextravel.com at 1 cent per point

Use Amex points for flights and hotels

Tip: if you hold American Express Business Platinum card, you get 35% points back when you pay with MR points.

Just 28.6K MR Points(after 35% points are refunded) for Mint Business class seat in Jet Blue from Las Vegas – Boston.

5. Redeem against Charges:

You could use your Amex MR points to redeem against your purchases, however, it is not the best value. You get only 0.6 cents

6. Redeem for Gift cards

You could use MR points to redeem for gift cards. Again, you will not best value from this option. It is probably one of the last thing you should consider, especially considering that there are ways to buy discounted gift cards. You would get anywhere between 0.7-1 cents/MR point

7. Redeem for Merchandise

You could redeem towards merchandise aswell from a wide range of products offered by Membership Rewards portal.

Get an Iphone XR for 118,471 MR points @ .65 cents/MR Point

8. Redeem at Checkout with Select Merchants

You can use MR points when you are doing shopping with Select merchants. Amazon is one such popular option. When redeeming at Amazon, you get 0.7 cents per MR point

Conclusion:

Amex Membership Rewards is one of the most valuable flexible currency in the market. There are wide range of redemption options available, however the best value can be had when redeeming for travel by transferring to Airline Loyalty programs or redeeming with Amextravel.com along with combination of Business Platinum card

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