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Mo Cards in Movember

November 28, 2012 5 comments

(If you despise posts just about credit cards, skip this. I don’t have credit card referral links — the links in the post are to other blogs’ posts that better explain what I’m trying to say, or to credit monitoring services).

I’d be lying if I didn’t say the majority of my miles/points come from credit cards. I’ve usually been conservative when it comes to applying for cards for myself, only applying for 1 or 2 at a time, letting my credit history grow a little bit. However, I feel like it’s ready for me to “graduate” and test myself with a 3-5 card app-fest. In this post, I’ll explain how I went about with this set of applications:

My goals for this set of applications:

I wanted to avoid Barclay’s and US Bank, since those are the banks I most recently applied to in the late summer/early autumn. I also wanted to avoid Citi, since I’m planning on applying for another set of American Airlines AAdvantage cards once my 18 months from my last applications pass in January 2013. Because of this, I ended up focusing on Chase, American Express, and Bank of America/Bank of Hawaii.

I applied for a couple of cards in March, one cards in August, and one card in October so I chose a date that was 91 days since the August application, just so that I can start setting up a schedule. Frugal Travel Guy wrote why he does a 91-day schedule and it makes sense to me for several reasons. One is that most spending requirements are within 3 months, so you give yourself time to meet spending requirements. Next is that some banks don’t like seeing too many recent inquiries within the last 6 months, so going on a 91-day cycle means that your churn 2 cycles ago is outside of that 6-month window. I’m not going to say I know the rules down to a T, but this is what I’ve learned from experience and from others, and it seems to work.

I’m not really much of a hotel guy, and I would rather collect airline miles than hotel points, and stay at more “authentic” places when abroad. I know a little about hotel programs but don’t really bother with them. After all, this is Points TO Point B, not Points AT Point B. Nevertheless, I figured having a stash of points to fall back on could prove useful, and decided to start racking up some hotel points, particularly Hilton points since they’re so easy to tally up through multiple credit cards and I can see myself using them overseas for otherwise expensive cities.

While coming up with my list of cards, I realized that I don’t actually have a Chase Ink card for myself … the ones that I’ve used for the past several months are as an employee on a family business with others as the primary cardholder. Since the spending requirement recently went down to $5000 in 3 months, I figured I should include an Ink card since I love Ultimate Rewards points for their ability to transfer to United miles (and in case I need a room at a Hyatt, that too!).

I decided to apply for the Ink Bold (card #1), because I figured that when it comes time to possibly apply for a 2nd Ink down the road, it’ll be easier to convince a possible reconsideration representative that I want a Chase Ink Plus because it allows payment flexibility as a credit card, unlike the Bold which is a charge card. It probably doesn’t matter, but I tend to overthink things, and this seemed like a legitimate reason to go with the Bold over the Plus for my first Ink card.

Since I was already doing a Chase business application, I decided to add a Chase personal card to the mix. I already have the Sapphire Preferred and the United MileagePlus Explorer (which I think is the best offer of the year, giving you 55,000 United miles for $1000 spending if you have an active United account). I don’t really care for Southwest points at the moment … before you call me an anti-Southwest elitist (which I probably am!), I actually think Southwest points are great for some uses. I recently learned that if you book a Southwest points redemption, you can cancel your award ticket for free and get all the points back. That’s actually really huge for a commitment-phobe like me. Unfortunately, Southwest flights are tied to the price of the ticket, and I really don’t see Southwest flights being so much cheaper than other airlines for the flights I want to take.

In the end, I decided to go with the Priority Club 80K (card #2) offer on first spend, available here on FT. This is great because it’s easy hotel points for one swipe of the card, and unlike the Chase Hyatt or Citi Hilton Reserve cards, I don’t have to spend thousands of dollars and have only a year to maximize the free night credit (I’m looking for a stash of points to fall back on, I don’t have a specific redemption in mind at the moment). The points will stay in my account for a while to come for any use — I used 5K points for a PointsBreak night in Frankfurt when I had a one-night layover, saving me over $200! The Chase PC card comes with the first annual fee waived and renews at $49 where you get another free night at any property. Sounds great to me!

As for American Express, I decided to go with the no annual fee Hilton 65K offer (card #3) (40K after $750 in 3 months, additional 25K after reaching $3000 in 6 months). This offer ends on November 30th. I’ll use this card at bonus category places like pharmacies and grocery stores at 6x, especially now that Reloads can be purchased at CVS. I could make this a 75K+ signup bonus with that sort of spending. This doesn’t have the elite benefits that the Amex Hilton Surpass or Citi Hilton Reserve cards have, but all I’m trying to do now is start building up a portfolio of Hilton points, and this is an easy way to do so.

Lastly, I decided to go with the Bank of America and Bank of Hawaii Hawaiian Airlines cards (cards #4 and #5). Both offer 35K Hawaiian Air miles for $1000 of spending within the first 4 months, totaling 70K miles. Those 70K Hawaiian miles can be transferred to 140K Hilton HHonors points. The main thing with the BoA/BoH cards was to get a $5K credit line on each, thus qualifying for the Signature Visa and the full bonus. My plan had been to possibly use the miles for a redemption on Virgin Atlantic, but they recently raised the prices for those redemptions by over 100%! 😦

Taking Stock of my Credit Scores:

I have a $4.95/month subscription to Citi IdentityMonitor, which tracks any inquiries that hit my credit report and any changes that occur on my credit report. I also get non-FICO credit scores through there but they seem to be lower than what the scores really are.

I also use Credit Sesame and CreditKarma, but the scores I get on those are abnormally high. I don’t believe it for a second when CreditSesame says I have an 811 score …

Luckily, I got a Transunion score last month from Barclay’s when I closed my US Airways Mastercard that I got the previous year, and that was a true FICO score showing me at 764. My US Bank FlexPerks card gives me a free Experian non-FICO score each month, and mine was 736. While it’s another non-FICO score, Experian is the most popular credit bureau the banks pull in my area (Southern California). Bank of America/FIA sent me notices about my credit shortly after applying that stated that the credit score I had when my file was pulled was 756, but I learned about this a week later. Lastly, I signed up for a trial at MyFico to check my Equifax score, which showed 751. All in all, a good place to start, since you want to stay above 700 when playing this game.

Day of Apps

1. Chase Priority Club 80K — Approved instantly

I started off with Chase and figured that I would probably have to call in for the Ink Bold no matter what, so I started with the Priority Club 80K offer to see if I’d get approved instantly. I did — for a measly $2,000 spending limit. Hah! No worries, though, the bonus is on first purchase and I plan on keeping the card for the free night credit anywhere in exchange for the $49 annual fee, the 10% points rebate, and Platinum status. I don’t actually plan on using it much. Since it’s the end of the year, I’ll make the first spend in late December so that they post in January — I’ll get Platinum via points for all of 2013 and 2014, so even if I give up the card for some odd reason, I’ll still have Platinum status for an extra year.

2. Chase Ink Bold 50K — Approved with a phone call

I then signed up for the Chase Ink Bold 50K with my personal information, which came back with pending status. I got on the phone with the Chase Business reconsideration line — (800-453-9719) — and spoke with a representative about my side business. After a while on the phone, he suggested that I close down my Sapphire Preferred since I “barely use it” (I don’t consider $5000 of foreign and/or travel transactions “barely using it,” dude!). Not only did I not want to give up this line, but my sister is currently abroad using that card because it has no foreign transactions! I can’t let them cancel that!

In the end, I ended up getting them to close my United MileagePlus Explorer card that had a paltry $4K limit and that I had no use for after opening it in March. It’s also the first card with an annual fee next year, so I decided to close that. I’m really surprised that they had me close a personal line of credit to open up a business charge card, but in the end, I have a $5000 flexible spending limit, just enough to get the minimum spending done. I lost a net $2K in credit with Chase, but it was worth getting 50K Ultimate Rewards points and 80K Priority Club points.

3. American Express Hilton 65K — Approved instantly!

After going 2/2 with Chase, I turned my eye to American Express, and got instant approval  for $5000! The best part was that they gave me my full credit card information (number, expiration, CVV code) so I got that registered for Small Business Saturday in a jiffy! The card arrived in a few days, and I was able to get an extra $25 gift certificate at a local restaurant.

4 and 5. Bank of America and Bank of Hawaii — Hawaiian Air 35K (x2) — Approved with phone calls

I applied for these in separate browsers simultaneously and got pending status on both. I first called Bank of Hawaii and answered a bunch of questions (including why I applied for 2 … because I want to separate my personal and reimburseable expenses, duh ;)). I’m used to reconsideration calls but this was had me give up the most information, including my major in college (WTF?). The rep congratulated me on a spotless credit report, even wondering how I had an Amex card at age 9 and a Discover card at 14 (gotta love credit reporting agencies!). I was approved quickly.

I then called Bank of America and spoke with a rep who asked me NO questions whatsoever. After about 5 minutes on hold, I was approved with the same $5K credit line – score!

Payout

Impact on credit score

I’ve been keeping track of Credit Karma and Credit Sesame and they’ve been holding steady. Most of my credit inquiries came on Experian, despite applying at so many different banks. However, Bank of America sent me my Experian score after applying for their card, and I was ecstatic to see that it was much higher than expected.

 

Meeting minimum spend

I’ve actually already met the first spend on my American Express Hilton card, and have drawered that until I finish the rest (I have 6 months to reach the higher threshold). I got the Priority Club card and will make a small purchase on that soon. My Chase Ink Bold came in this week and I’m already over 20% of the way there for minimum spend thanks to Office Depot Visa gift cards and some methods of upping spend. Want to know more? Find me at Frequent Traveler University at LAX this weekend!

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Chase Freedom 5x Categories for 2013

November 28, 2012 1 comment

How quickly a year goes by! Chase has just announced the 2013 bonus categories for their no-fee Freedom card. Each quarter, the Freedom gets 5% cash-back/5x Ultimate Rewards points at different categories, up to $1500 per quarter. That means that with $6,000 of precise spending, one can accumulate 30K Ultimate Rewards points.

The Freedom is a card that is a mainstay in my wallet, since it has no annual fee. I also got it long before the beginning of this month, when Chase stopped offering their “Exclusives” program, where Chase Checking holders get an extra 10% on base points and 10 points per transaction.

You can activate 5x on the bonus categories starting the 15th of the month before each quarter (so, December 15th, March 15th, June 15th, and September 15th) up until the next quarter’s activation start date. It’s best to activate 5x as soon as possible, though they are retroactive. Interestingly, I was part of a targeted group this year who got to activate 5x for the entire year all at once, though it doesn’t seem like I’ll get to do that next year.

I keep saying “5x Ultimate Rewards points,” which is a bit of a misnomer. The card is marketed as a cash-back card. Each point is worth a penny. However, if you or your spouse/domestic partner has a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold, or Chase Ink Plus, you can transfer your Freedom UR points into those accounts to turn them into Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred to United, British Airways, Hyatt, etc.

Here are the bonus categories for 2013:

January 1 – March 31: (activate December 15th – March 14th)

Gas stations

Drugstores

Starbucks (including Starbucks.com and mobile phone reloads)

The easiest way to maximize this quarter is to buy $1500 of Vanilla reloads at CVS or Walgreens, though I already have my Amex HHonors with 6x and my Chase Ink where I can buy gift cards at 5x to buy reloads. I go to Starbucks a decent amount and get 5x on my Citi Forward. For me, the best incremental category bonus here is gas stations, since the best I get is 2x on my Ink Bold. I’ll use it for gas, then top it off with drugstore purchases in March. (For Californians, Starbucks is an interesting proposition).

April 1 – June 30: (activate March 15th – June 14th)

Restaurants

Movie Theaters

I don’t spend a lot of time at movie theaters, so I guess restaurants are the way to go. I highly value Ultimate Rewards points, mostly for their partnership with United. My Citi Forward gets 5x Thank You Points at dining, which is worth 5 to 6.65 cents back per dollar, but that will be drawered when Freedom has 5x at restaurants, since Ultimate Rewards points are more flexible. In addition, some restaurants sell gift cards to their own places, including some of my local small-business restaurants.

July 1 – September 30: (activate June 15th – September 14th)

Gas Stations

Theme Parks

Kohl’s

Gas stations return for the summer months, and while it might be hard to hit $1500 worth of gas, some places sell gift cards, allowing you to get 5x at other merchants. If you plan a trip to Kohl’s or to a theme park, the Freedom would be a great card to have, since not many cards offer more than 1x.

October 1 – December 31: (activate September 15th – December 31st)

Select department stores (yet to be announced)

Amazon.com

Once they announce which department stores it’ll include, it’ll be easier to figure out how to maximize the 5x for this quarter. Again, my Citi Forward already gets 5x ThankYou Points for Amazon, so I might use my Freedom if I’m not going to spend a lot at the department stores listed. Though it is the holiday season, so department stores will be a heavy category for some.

Even if you do not spend a lot at those particular categories, you can always get gift cards for other places. You can get gift cards at gas stations in Q1/Q3, drugstores in Q1, and certain restaurants for their own cards in Q2. One disappointment is that there are no supermarket quarters at all — earlier this year, I was able to easily max out that quarter with gift card purchases.

Lastly, an interesting side-note — I pinged @ChaseSupport on Twitter from my personal account earlier this week to ask about next year’s Freedom 5x categories, and was told to wait a few more days. This morning, I had a DM with a personal message responding to my question a few days prior with the link to the categories. Now that’s how you do social media!

Categories: Chase, Credit Cards, Gift Cards

SkyFalling on Vanilla

November 10, 2012 19 comments

It’s been a week since my last post — I’m not really cut out for this travel blogger thing. I’m more active on Twitter – that’s where all the fun is. After all, I still think of this as a hobby, and Twitter has been a great way to connect with like-minded others.

But then today happened. And I just needed to say something about it that 140 characters wouldn’t capture.

Back in the spring, FrequentMiler talked about being able to get 5x Ultimate Rewards points almost everywhere by using a Chase Ink card to purchase a Prepaid American Express and Vanilla Reload packs at Office Depot. Before that, we would simply use credit cards at stores that offered bonus categories to buy merchant gift cards. This was a huge deal because we could get 5x points at any place that accepted American Express, and use the prepaid cards at ATMs to help goose up effective spending.

I’m sure others may have figured out that chain of transactions before FrequentMiler, but his initial and followup posts were done so well, with all the requisite cautions and caveats, that I still consider it post of the year. There was no reason for me to write a blog post on it, since Frequent Miler had already covered so many bases. I do some work in the scientific research community, and knowing who came before you and recognizing their work is paramount to a writer’s credentials. Unless I had something to make the deal even better, there was no reason to keep on talking about it. Anyone who follows my blog and not Frequent Miler’s is doing themselves a huge disservice. There’s no need for me to copy+paste his work.

But over the course of the summer and now autumn, plenty of blogs simply copied down Frequent Miler’s information and touted it as their own, and added their own affiliate links to make money on it. No original research went into this, and that just tickled me funny.

All these posts brought out information into the forefront. Now, I’m fine with sharing deals, but there’s a difference between sharing and shouting from rooftops. In this hobby, somebody in the chain is going to lose money. In the purest example, airlines are giving us seats for pennies on the dollar with our miles. However, they’re doing so because they have an excess of inventory and can make money off the loyalty program.

But when we add other dealers into this mix – Chase, American Express, Office Depot, Incomm – somebody is going to lose money. Think about it – in the old Mint deal, the government was losing money due to credit card processing fees. Same here – Chase was giving 5x points but only recouping around 2% of the transaction, and Office Depot was losing 2% of each transaction, even though the reload fee was less than 1%. If I have a business and I’m losing money on a transaction, I stop selling that product. It may take a while to notice it, but eventually, that’ll be my course of action. But if people start writing up posts to tell thousands of others to exploit my business, you sure as hell should know that I’ll cut off that mistake from my customers.

Today, Office Depot abruptly decided to stop selling these Vanilla Reloads. It comes just as BlueBird was getting into stride (if you don’t know, Bluebird was an even more lucrative angle to the Ink 5x that was first detailed by FrequentMiler, then copied on every other blog to rake in hits and affiliate money). I spoke with the regional manager at my Office Depot store today and he told me that “We figured out what you all are up to” and that “people aren’t going to rip off Office Depot anymore.”

What’s funny is that the actual store manager knows me from my visits there and my conversations with him, and he didn’t think I was doing anything wrong since I told him a story of wanting to have an Amex for certain purchases (which is true) while leaving out the 5x angle. Yet, there are stories of customers who went into detail with the clerks on how they were taking advantage of Bluebird to get free points while sticking Office Depot with the bill. It’s a bit of a reach, but that breaks the 1st rule about these types of deals: “don’t call the banks/airlines/companies.” If the Office Depot person is wondering why you’re paying $4 to buy a $500 gift card, act dumb and just say your business told you too (that’s why you have a business employee card).

I also think it’s also false for any blogger to say that their site don’t carry any weight — my simple WordPress blog itself has gotten thousands of views and I’ve been contacted by representatives of companies I did trip reports on. The more commercial ones have got to have much more clout than I do. Some of them have actually met with the banks themselves, or have exclusive partnerships with the banks we’re trying to take advantage of. It’s as if they’re trying to be double agents, getting in cozy with the banks to try to help the common mileage junkie get an in. Sorry, but if there’s anything that 2008 taught me, it’s that banks will have the last laugh.

It also gets to be a little bit much to say that they shouldn’t be to blame for over-publicizing deals when FlyerTalk has just just as many posts. Last time I checked on Google, FlyerTalk didn’t show up on the front page when I searched “Vanilla Reload” (there is one post that shows up now, which is a discussion that started today). Sure, FlyerTalk is a large site, but it is an actual community there where people are willing to help out so long as you don’t blab everything out and make it easy for Google Alerts to get a company’s attention. If you don’t understand a thread, start participating and figure out who the big players in there are (you can click the number of posts to see the people with the most posts in the thread). If you need help, send a PM. Out of maybe 100 PMs, I’ve only heard “no” 2 or 3 times.

Now, I’ve only met one prominent blogger in person so far, and I’m glad to know that blogger. I’ll likely meet a lot more of them in a few weeks at Frequent Traveler University near LAX. I’m sure they are awesome people, and I even plunked down $99 to spend a weekend with them. But each of these blogs that I mentioned has a commercial arm, and that’s the part I’m critiquing.

I’m voting with my clicks, and have stopped giving my credit card signup affiliate money to blogs who are willing to kill deals for their personal gain. If you read my last app-o-rama post, you’ll notice that I purposefully mentioned giving my Ink signups to FrequentMiler; every other credit card was applied directly without an affiliate. I’m not asking everyone to do this, but money talks and I hope you give it a consideration.

I also made this video. Before you act offended, realize this is a very popular internet meme. Some people find it insensitive, but it’s been around for over 4 years as one of the most enduring internet parody videos … it’s not even the first mileage junkie parody this month!

Categories: American Express, Chase

Checking Your Chase Freedom 5x Categories

September 26, 2012 Leave a comment

I love having the Chase Freedom in my wallet since it’s great for so many different transactions.

Every quarter, Chase runs a promotion for 5% cash-back in different categories. Since the points are actually Ultimate Rewards points that you can transfer to your Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold cards, you’re essentially earning 5x UR points that you can transfer to United, Hyatt, British Airways, or other travel partners. There’s a spending cap of $1500 per quarter, though.

In addition, since I also have a Chase Checking account, I get 10 points per transaction and a 10% bonus of all base points. This is great for small transactions – an otherwise 1x transaction of $2 will still earn me over 12 UR points. The card is also a free card, so it’s one I will keep for a very long time, and one that I’m using to build a relationship with Chase, probably the best of the travel rewards credit card banks at the moment.

Until September 30th, I’m getting 5x for Restaurants and Gas. That means that the $4 I spent a few days ago at a frozen yogurt shop (that’s classified as a restaurant) earned me 30.4 UR points — 20 points on the 5x, 10 points for the transaction, and 0.4 points for the 10% bonus.

From October 1st until December 31st, I’ll earn 5x on Airfare and Hotel (bought through the airline or hotel) as well as Best Buy and Kohls.

Since the categories change each month, I have a system I use to make sure I maximize the $1500 of 5x spending I’m allotted each quarter.That way I know how far away I am from hitting $1500. If I’m more than a bit short, I’ll usually fill in the space by purchasing some gift cards at 5x retailers that I’ll use later.

1) Check all the statements that have already posted during the 5x quarter

Since the quarter began on July 1st, I’ll have to look at these 3 statements, all of which include dates since July 1st.

2) Check your Chase Freedom Rewards Summary for posted points

One way that I double-check that everything has posted is that I make sure that the base points (+1% line) matches up with how much I spent that month. Since I spent $346.87 on my Freedom that month, I got 347 points, which matches up.

From here, I divide the “Bonus Points from 5% categories” number by four. You divide by four because even though it’s a 5x category, it’s 4x on top of the 1x you usually earn.

In this case, 1150 points means I spent about $287.50 on 5x categories that month. The remaining ~$60 was likely on small 1x things where I maximized the 10 points/transaction — as you can see, I made 51 transactions that month for 510 bonus points.

Repeat this for the other statements. You can also just count up all the bonus points in each statement, add those up, and then divide by four.

For myself, I had 3102 points amongst my statements, so dividing by 4 means I spent about $775.50 on 5x categories thus far.

3) Check Blueprint for your spending that hasn’t been posted to a statement

Blueprint should show up right under your Chase Freedom account in your Chase accounts page.

From there, click “Track It”


Once in that view, find the categories that match with 5x categories:

Add those spending totals for “Since Last Statement” to your running total. For me, that means I’ve spent about $1124 on 5x categories this month. With 4 days left in the quarter, I still have $376 left of 5x spending available at gas stations and restaurants. It’s likely that I’ll pick up some gas and restaurant gift cards before the week is over, to maximize that $1500 cap as much as possible.

So there you go. I actually went back into my statements and calculated one-by-one how much I’d spent on 5x categories, and the estimation I made through these steps was only 15 cents off. This is a much quicker way to estimate how close you are to the $1500 cap.

If you have a Chase Freedom, and haven’t activated yet for the 4th Quarter bonuses (Airfare, Hotels, Kohls, Best Buy), you can do that here.

If you haven’t yet gotten a Chase Freedom, I’d wait for when they have a better bonus than their current 10K UR signup bonus. I got this card last year when they offered $300 cash-back for spending $500. Those $300 in cash back were actually 30K Ultimate Rewards points, and since I value Ultimate Rewards points close to 2¢, my haul was actually greater than the spending required to get it. The Freedom is a great card for day-to-day spending, but there are so many other Chase cards that give better sign-up bonuses at the moment.

Categories: Chase

An End of Summer Appfest

September 5, 2012 1 comment

It’s a busy week for the P2PB family, at least in terms of credit card approvals. Personally, I tend to stay away from huge churns, since I’m rather conservative with my fairly young credit history and would rather apply for limited-time offers as they pop up. I’ll do a maximum 2 cards at a time. This also helps me deal with large spend requirements by keeping them manageable. On the other hand, my parents are the type who don’t like to switch up credit cards that often, so I try to sign them up for a glut of cards at once so that we can deal with the annual fees and card-switching all at once. With their businesses, it’s not too difficult for them to hit high spend thresholds.

Me:
US Bank FlexPerks Visa
: Approved, luckily for the Travel Rewards card and not the less lucrative Select card (judging from posts on Flyertalk, my non-churning habits might have helped me here). I signed up for this card because it was a limited-time promotion. It was also a non-Citi/Chase/Amex card, the ones where I’ve been getting the brunt of my CC bonuses. The Olympics promotion allowed me to earn 33,150 points after I spend $2500 in 5 months, which is certainly doable. It’s best to have FlexPerks points in multiples of 10K, since

20,000 FlexPoints = Up to $400 ticket value
30,000 FlexPoints = Up to $600 ticket value
40,000 FlexPoints = Up to $800 ticket value
50,000 FlexPoints = Up to $1,000 ticket value

Since I’ll have a minimum of 35,650 points after meeting the spend threshold, it makes sense to me to go for 40K points and earn an additional $200 worth of travel. In fact, if I were to concentrate $3425 of spend on 2x categories, I’ll earn 40K points for not that much more than the required spending. For $3425 of spending, that’s up to $800 of return, or 23.36%. Even if I do 50% at 2x and 50% at 1x, that would be a bit over $4566 to spend. While not as lucrative as some mileage bonuses, cash is more liquid, and trips paid with these points earn elite and redeemable airline miles. It should help with my “re-run for Gold” early next year.

The card earns 2x on either gas, grocery, or airline purchases, depending on which has the highest spend that month. Methinks I’ll be going with grocery, since I can buy prepaid gift cards to use elsewhere. Gas currently earns 5x on Freedom, and I still have a bunch of ARCO gift cards I purchased in Q2, where Chase had grocery at 5x. Meanwhile, I get 2x for airfare on my Chase Sapphire Preferred and will get 5x on my Chase Freedom starting in October.

The card earns 2x on cell phone purchases, including monthly bills, which is less than the 5x earned on the Chase Ink cards. However, AT&T allows me to pay my cell phone bill whenever I want for whatever amount, so I might prepay a bill if it comes down to just wanting to finish the spend ASAP and get the points.

Lastly, you do earn 3x for charitable donations, which is great since the spend deadline is after December 31, which is around the time most people make charitable donations. I donated $25 to Kiva and it showed up as 75 points.

The $2500 by mid-January 2013 is more than doable for me, which is great since I’m still working on finishing up my Delta Platinum Amex $25K spend to hit 10K MQMs before my fee is due in October. I decided pretty late in the year to go for $25K spend to get the 10K MQMs, and am OH SO CLOSE.

;

Mama P2PB + Papa P2PB:

Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Visa: Approved! for 55,000 United miles after $1000 of spending in 3 months (total: 110,000 United miles after $2000 of personal spend).

I think this is a great signup bonus – I got it earlier in the year when it was 50,000 miles on first purchase + 5,000 miles for adding an authorized user + $50 statement credit. The bonus now isn’t as great as it once was, but I value 55,000 United miles at over $1,000, so the $1000 spend isn’t bad. The folks have a few rental car days coming up in the next 3 months, and this card will get that activity thanks to its Primary CDW. The rest of the spend threshold conveniently fits within the monthly limits of a certain payment system. Once we hit the spend threshold, it’s back to Chase Freedom for personal spend, since that earns 1.1x + 10 rather than 1x for United miles.

Chase Ink Bold Visa: Approved (after calling in to reconsideration)! 25,000 Ultimate Rewards points on first spend, plus 25,000 Ultimate Rewards points for $10K spend within 93 days (total: 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after $20,000 of business spend).

Both of my folks got American Express Business Gold cards last year, as both were targeted with 75K Membership Rewards bonuses for just $2K spend. We quickly hit that target, then transferred all the points to Continental before that partnership ended. However, AmEx’s $125 fee just hit and we aren’t that interested in keeping the card, since Ultimate Rewards points are better for our purposes (love that United partnership). While the $10K spend is high, it’s certainly more than doable for the nature of the two businesses, and we plan on using this for all of our major business expenses. (I applied for each card through Frequent Miler’s referral link, just because of the great work he’s done to help people maximize the earnings out of this card).

I was home for the long weekend, and so applied when Chase was open in order to facilitate any reconsideration calls. Since I applied for the personal United card first, this card went into a waiting period. I called Chase for my mother’s card first, and the representative verified my her info. She authorized me to talk to the representative, and I gave information about the business. The Ink Bold is a charge card which must be paid off every month (if you’re not paying the card off every month, you shouldn’t be doing non-0% interest rewards cards). However, we were given a credit limit that was more than what was needed. Lather, rinse, repeat with my father’s information.

The questions asked were:
1) what type of business is it?
2) what were sales last year?
3) what are this years projection?
4) what was the profit?
5) how much is your monthly spend?

Lastly, since these are Ultimate Rewards points, we really did earn 100K as a family, since UR points can be transferred freely between Chase accounts and to any partner accounts.

Barclay’s US Airways Mastercard: Approved for 40,000 US Airways miles after first purchase (total: 80,000 US Airways miles after 2 purchases).

I totally forgot about this card until I was actually doing the applications. I signed up for it last year and was successful in getting the 40K miles + a hit during the grand slam. However, I couldn’t sign up for a second card myself, but forgot to sign up my parents for one. Plus in California, Barclay’s pulls Transunion, which is sort of like the forgotten middle child of the 3 credit bureaus. This was basically a free credit pull and free 40K miles for purchasing a pack of gum. No idea what I’ll use the miles for, but US Airways offers 5K award discounts on US metal. That means that it’s only 20K for a domestic roundtrip on US or 55K for a off-peak roundtrip business class ticket to Europe. (Or with the merger talks, maybe I just scored 80K future AAdvantage miles ;)). Whatever the case, applying for this card was very low opportunity cost, so it just made sense to go for it.

Old cards:
As for the 2 American Express Gold Business cards, I called Amex for retentions. I was able to get 15K Membership Rewards to keep one card for $125, and got a $125 credit for the other account. I posted those here.

So all in all, a good weekend, more so for my parents than for me. Two 55,000 mile United bonuses; 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points; two 40,000 US Airways bonuses; and 15,000 Membership Rewards points for them, and some mileage run funds for me.

Sapphire Preferred ain’t nothin’ without Freedom

July 14, 2012 Leave a comment

I got the Chase Sapphire Preferred last year when I started applying more widely for credit cards. It had a 50,000 point bonus for spending $3000 in 3 months, although that bonus is now 40,000 points. I still consider that to be a great deal, since Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to United, British Airways, and Hyatt, three very powerful partners.

(If you’re interested in getting a 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points bonus, the Chase Ink Bold is still available. The Ink Bold is a business charge card, so you’ll need a business to apply for the card, and spend $10,000 in 3 months)

When I first got the Sapphire Preferred, it didn’t have much going for it, but they’ve added more transfer partners, such as Southwest Airlines, Korean Air, and Marriott; I don’t find value in those, but it’s good to have choices. They also started giving 2x points on dining and travel. For a while, this was my go-to card for travel and dining. (Not only that, but it’s a pretty sexy card, as it’s all metallic and makes a distinct sound if you drop it on a hard surface. I’ve definitely had waitresses and bartenders take note of that ;)).

However, I’ve found myself using my Chase Freedom card a lot more lately, because of its better earning potential than the Sapphire Preferred. The Chase Freedom is a no annual fee card that looks pretty plain and simple, yet packs a powerful punch in terms of earning. Sounds like my type of card!

My Sapphire Preferred’s annual fee recently posted. I called Chase to ask for the $95 fee to be credited back to my account, but they refused. To be honest, I had a hard time arguing about it. The Sapphire Preferred, combined with the Chase Freedom, is a powerful card, especially since my Freedom is tied to a Chase Checking account.

I commented on a similar post at Online Travel Review and thought I’d expand on my Sapphire Preferred + Freedom thoughts:

On 1x purchases, I earn (1.1x + 10) points per dollar using my Chase Freedom, better than the 1.07x with Sapphire.

The Freedom has great 5x rotating categories each quarter for up to $1500 of purchases. Right now, it’s “Gas Stations + Restaurants” and in Quarter 4, will include “Airlines, Hotels, Kohls, and Best Buy.” That adds up to more than 30,000 Ultimate Rewards points for $6,000 of careful spending per Freedom.

We have 3 Freedoms in our family, do that’s 90,000 Ultimate Rewards points for $18,000 of spending. Even though we have different Freedoms, we can transfer them to my Sapphire Preferred account, where I can turn them into United miles.

The Sapphire Preferred is great for travel and dining, as well as foreign transactions (though I use my Chase British Airways card more because it’s a chip and earns 1.25 Avios instead of 1.07 Ultimate Rewards).

The only real reason I’m keeping the Sapphire Preferred is to “activate” the Freedom points and turn them into United miles.

Which is why I kept my Sapphire Preferred and will downgrade/cancel my family members’ cards. I’ll give them authorized user cards on my Sapphire Preferred in case they need to use it for a large 2x purchase. But now we pay just $95/year for 3 cardholders to earn 5x United miles.

Not bad.

Categories: Chase, Credit Cards

Using Avios for South America

July 14, 2012 1 comment

The Chase British Airways Visa currently has an offer of 50,000 Avios on first purchase and up to 50,000 additional Avios for spending up to $20,000 on it in the first year. That means 100,000 Avios for big spenders. There is also a thread on FlyerTalk that details getting the card and receiving the 100,000 Avios without massive spending, so long as you keep it for a year and pay $150 in fees. Either way, it’s a great way to earn Avios for cheap.

Even though Avios are the program for British Airways, I actually don’t ever see myself using them for British Airways flights to Europe or beyond. You’ll see lots of nasty fuel surcharges. For example, an Economy Class ticket from New York to London will cost you $841.31:

If I wanted to use Avios, it would be 40,000 Avios round-trip plus $655.31, meaning that 40K Avios saves you only $186 (under half a cent per Avios, which is BAD).

That’s because British Airways has some pretty nasty fuel surcharges. In this case, the base fare for the round-trip is $186, and fuel surcharges, airport taxes, and fees add up to $655.31. The miles only take care of taking off the base fare.

Fuel surcharges also apply for flights to Europe on American Airlines. The surcharges are a lot lower on Aer Lingus, but they only fly to Dublin and Shannon from a few spots on the east coast.

However, one place where Avios is really helpful for North Americans is for domestic trips on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines, and trips down to South America on LAN or American Airlines. Both airlines have great service to/from South America, and LAN serves a lot of places within South America.

First, keep in mind that there is no reward chart with British Airways Avios. That’s because in these scheme, you pay per segment based on the distance of each segment. Therefore, if I fly LAX to JFK to Lima, I will pay for the LAX to JFK flight and the JFK to Lima flight. This means that non-stops are cheaper than connecting flights. Below is a rough guide to how many Avios you’ll need for certain distances … Blue Class corresponds to Economy. For first class, the price is 3x Economy.

Zones 1-3 (short-hauls) can be quite a deal.
Zones 4-6 are competitive with other programs.
Zones 7-9 (long-hauls) are rather expensive compared to other programs.

Like I said, South America is one of the regions where using British Airways Avios can really help out. Both American Airlines and LAN fly between the two continents, and LAN has great coverage throughout the continent. Both airlines offer Economy and Business Class, while AA offers First Class on a few routes with their Boeing 777 Aircraft (like New York to Buenos Aires and New York to Sao Paulo). I flew LAN business class earlier this year and thought it was a great product.

Getting from North America to South America

The main gateway from the U.S. to South America is Miami, which makes Avios great for those in South Florida or those who are a short flight from MIA. Afterward comes New York JFK and Dallas/Fort Worth DFW with a decent number of flights to South America. Los Angeles and San Francisco only have LAN service to Lima, while Chicago does not serve any South American cities.

Rather than list out every possible route, I’ll simply link to the OneWorld Route Map. Just enter one of those U.S. gateways (MIA, JFK, DFW, LAX, or SFO), deselect “include connections” and select “non-stop flights” and “include codeshares.”

Checking out where I can go directly from MIA. (Click to see bigger picture)

Afterward, I would use the Wandering Aramean’s Avios Calculator … plug in the cities you are interested in and see how much that routing would cost. You’ll notice that Miami to Quito is only 10,000 Avios one-way in Economy, a fantastic deal. If you live in the Southeast, a connecting flight is only 4500 Avios one-way in Economy, so an Atlanta – Miami – Quito flight would be only 14500 Avios one-way, or 29000 Avios round-trip.

Using Avios within South America

LAN has a great footprint within western South America, and has subsidiaries in Chile, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, and Colombia. Best yet, there is no fuel surcharge, just nominal airport taxes. When I went to Machu Picchu, revenue fares were about $450 for non-Peruvians (you have to show Peruvian ID at the airport to use thy fare). I instead redeemed 9,000 Avios and paid $13 in taxes — much better!

There are a bunch of places served by LAN — the OneWorld map tool above can show exactly where they fly.