November 20, 2010

The accidental airline card: British Airways

There’s an idea PiC and I have been floating, kicking around, actually, for the past several weeks.

A friend is going traipsing about across continents for several months and has been prodding us to jump in for a bit of that trip sometime in the spring. We’d previously half-promised to join a pair of PiC’s friends in Greece “sometime in spring” but that couple has already decided on a week on Greece and another in Italy and at a time that may not work so well for us.

Leaving aside the question of whether I can save enough vacation time, there’s still the actual cost to get there and back, and fill my ever-starving belly!  A very rough estimate of an acceptable budget: $2000-3000.

It’s a pretty crazy thought.

But.

So Delicious.

I hit FlyerTalk and Fatwallet to confirm my suspicions and sure enough, there had been a fantastic promotion for the British Airways Signature Visa months ago – 50,000 bonus miles after a first purchase and a $2000 spend in three months, but the current promotion on offer was pretty anemic at only half that so I held off.  It’s nothing like the one from last year offering twice that, for a total of 100K miles, though. *dramatic sigh*

Lo, when I tried to book my travel for work, Chase/BA ambushed me with the premium offer, only if I were to apply right then and there and pay for my travel with that very same card.

Pacing back and forth, assailing PiC with demands for his assessments of our usual spending that goes on credit cards for the next three months, I found myself, after two hours of obsessing, applying for the card.  What I did not notice, shame on me, was that a waiver of the annual fee wasn’t part of the promotion. I’d taken that for granted as a normal business tactic for all the new cards.  And they get you right up front, too!  The charge hit my card two days after I got it in the mail.

As a bit of emotional solace, though it’s hardly a real offset against $75(!), I just found out that this card no longer charges a foreign transaction fee.  So there’s that.

The 50,000 bonus miles will pay for one transatlantic flight, so that’s one of us taken care of.  Perhaps it’s worth $75 for PiC to pick up his own card after I’ve completed my $2000 spend so we can combine costs on his card?  I don’t want to be spending above need just for the sake of getting bonus miles, of course, that’s silly and wasteful.  But I am planning to pay things like car registration earlier to get it into the three month cycle for this card. We can do that for a number of things like Costco gift cards (which are another story entirely).

I don’t know if, when or how this trip will happen yet.  There are still a lot of issues (hi, family problems) to be settled between now and then so it might be completely unrealistic to try and go away for such a big trip. But I’ll just keep squirreling money and miles away. Just in case.

October 23, 2010

Forced into Freedom (Chase card)

My letter of doom arrived on October 15th.  It was a Friday. It was a payday. It was, in all other ways, good.  Then the letter arrived.

A thin envelope from Chase which had no business being here, no rewards check having been ordered recently, no changes to terms or conditions anticipated.  No reason at all for this surprise delivery from the postperson. 

That envelope contained a missive from my former favorite bank/credit card stating that my go-to credit card, my Chase Cash Plus, 5% cash back on all gas, groceries and drugstores card was being converted into a Chase Freedom card

FREEDOM. Freedom they call it. Freedom to go …. never mind. Freedom it is, then.

Freedom to earn a paltry 1% cashback on all purchases and a bonus 5% for three short months on their select categories of the season. This winter (Oct 1-Dec 31st) will be groceries, department stores and movie theatres. Never ye mind I don’t shop at department stores or go to movies more than few times a year, forget during these three months of the year. The pink French washed sea salt in an already searing wound?  A customer is now required to sign up every three months for the categories for which they desire the bonus % cash back.  

O bitterness!  There was much rending of garments and remonstration.

**For the record, PiC was puzzled and unmoved. He clearly has some conversion to the world of personal finance left to do.  Now I have to find a better go-to card. Bischla. 

May 24, 2010

My first new store credit card in 10 years

While I apply for regular credit cards with almost reckless abandon to get a new round of bonuses every year (no more than 3 per year, noted on a spreadsheet for maximum bonus and cancellation efficiency), my store credit cards have been limited to Macy’s (unused), Victoria’s Secret (unused) and Best Buy (long since canceled).

And now, Banana Republic. On my Desperate for a Sweater shopping trip, there were no coupons or sales. Le horror!  Unfortunately, I simply wouldn’t have time to shop again for weeks and I wasn’t going to survive another week in the frozen tundra of an office space so I bit the bullet and bought a lightly discounted sweater.

Confronted by the usual “do you have a store card, and do you want to sign up for a 20% discount today?” I halfheartedly waved the baited hook away until I realized that that was the only worthwhile discount option. No gift cards in hand, no coupons, no cashback. It was the store card or nearly full price.  My bargain dependent heart couldn’t take it and so I did. Take the card, that is. Oddly enough, I promptly forgot about the card. Three weeks later, it appeared in the mail, I paid the bill and noted the various ways they get you to keep the card:

1. Bonus points for purchases at their stores
2. Loyalty tiers for spending at least $800. per year.
3. Cash outs for every 1000 points, which means any points that are leftover are held prisoner until you spend more.
4. Bonus points for making a purchase outside their stores within 30 days of activation. This is to get you accustomed to spending with their card all the time.

I’ll keep it open long enough to benefit from the bonus point for signing up for paperless statements (500 points) and for making an outside purchase (2000 points). That nets me a $30 credit. But beyond that, is it worth keeping this card?

{————Carnivals————}


My thanks …..

to Adam of Money Relationship for including my post on Lingering Side Effects of Debt in this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance.

Be sure to submit to this week’s Carnival hosted by me this week!

Check out ….. 

the Carnival of Money Stories hosted by Funny About Money!

January 11, 2010

I don’t even want to think about my car

Daily Exercise Update: I spent 20+ minutes at the park playing with a friend’s 15-month-old daughter. Aka, chasing tiny little gigglefest around sand and dirt.  I feel creaky.

Please check out this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance at Darwin’s Finance!

__________________________________________

I’m due for a good overhaul.

Not only have I done nothing about the previous list of repairs, I’ve gone and racked up another couple To Dos: the heater’s gone out since we last discussed the ole horseless carriage, and it’s time for another oil change.  Already. 

This is the flip side of loving an old car.  And I doubt I’ve got time to rack up enough Driver’s Edge purchase point credits to apply towards the repair costs because I derailed that plan with the credit card promotions I wanted to fulfill.  Ooops. That was my fault, I just didn’t think about the poor timing and make a better final decision.

Keeping the two plans separated should not have been too difficult.  Typically I’d accomplish one goal, earning points on the Driver’s Edge card first with only normal spending, and then move on to the next set of credit cards.  But while we’re second guessing decisions here, let’s calculate the cost-benefit of splitting up my spending across the three cards for promos. I’ve got a nice spreadsheet for tracking the promotions:

Chase Sapphire:  $100 cash ($6 spent)American Express: $150 in GCs ($1100 spent)
Citi Forward: $100-110 in GCs ($250 spent)  

Had I collected that spending ($1356) on the Driver’s Edge card, I would have earned 1356 points, which translates into $13.56 in Driver’s Edge dollars.  That frees up the same amount of Drive mile dollars ($13.56).

On second thought, the net gain is higher this way because even doubled (by adding the existing Drive miles points in dollar value), I’d still have less than $50 to spend on repairs.  The Chase promotion, paid in cash, more than covers that amount.  

I made the right decision there, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve still got to get the car to the shop.  We’re only a few thousand miles away from a 100,000 mile check, too, so I should gird myself for spending a fair chunk of the car maintenance fund on this set of repairs.   Wish me luck!

December 7, 2009

Time to switch credit cards again

What’s in my wallet is about to be changed: I’m subbing in a new credit card to earn car repair purchase points.

**Please note that I don’t use the card any more just to earn points and I definitely don’t carry a balance.  That would defeat the purpose of creating this passive income stream.

Chase Cash Plus is my daily go-to card earning 5 points per dollar back on gas, groceries, and drugstore purchases, 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.  My favorite redemption is the 5000 points = $50 check.  It’s a tiny drop in the bucket, but it’s cash and who doesn’t love cash?  [SingleMa. But she has a point.  My cashback goes straight in the bank so I don’t spend it.]

Right now, though, I foresee minor problems with my car cropping up again, in addition to things I never bothered to fix: the fog light housing, the dings and dents, the self-inflicted injuries.  As usual, the cosmetic surgery will wait, but the lock repair is necessary, the light goes wonky and only works if you set it just so, and the smashed housing should be fixed sooner rather than later.

Thanks to the Drive Miles Options, I have $75 worth of points rolled up, but don’t forget the fine print! Miles redemptions requires an equal number of purchase points.  This means switching over from my Chase card to the Driver’s Edge card for all regular purchases.  I’m not sacrificing the 5-1 points ratio on the bonus purchases, just the 1-1 dollar-point ratio.

I’ll have to spend a hefty sum on the Driver’s Edge card to rack up the required points, but when you combine the purchase points with the matching Drive Miles, it’s a 2-1 ratio and free money for car repairs to boot.   Not a bad match, considering I’m saving myself from spending cash ($150) out of pocket.  Compared to the delayed $50 cash redemption ($40 of which is already earned), it’s no contest.

September 3, 2009

A light credit card primer for young relatives

*Slightly edited for public consumption. This was written for a young relative who had never before evinced interest in the financial world, not even in the spending of money. Said relative approached me asking for some guidance on which credit card to get as the age of 21 was fast approaching and, ambivalently, “perhaps it’s time.” *

Dearest Relative,

Once upon a time, I used cardoffers.com to earn extra bonuses when applying for new credit cards; if you applied through their site, they’d offer to pay you an extra amount of cash (from $10-$75) depending on the card. I’ve gone through it and I don’t see any good cards with an extra freebie this time so I’m going to say, for your purposes, the Citi Forward card is good.

Read the two following posts on the cards for more on what is offered, what you need to do, and how to max out the benefits of the card:

Jonathan’s guide to $100 bonuses from credit cards (accessed 08.15.09)
Jonathan’s review of the Citi Forward card

If you were willing to take the extra time (probably 30 minutes total over the life of the deal), I would suggest applying for the AMEX Starwood at the same time as the Citi Forward. If you get approved: activate it, make a tiny tiny purchase of a dollar or two to generate the bonus points, cash the points out, and call to cancel the card a few months down the road. It’ll nab you an extra $100 of spending money right off the bat. Not a bad thing to have in the wallet since gift cards don’t expire in CA.

As you get older and start using cards more regularly (and responsibly! I have to add that, you know that), I would recommend that you pick a second and third back-up card just in case there are problems with your original card.**

A few reasons this is worthwhile: as long as you are responsible with your spending, it’s a fantastic back-up for purchase protection. If you were overcharged for something, and discovered it when you got home, you can be outta luck if you paid cash and the store refuses to acknowledge the mistake.

Building your credit history with just a few cards (you just have to have them, pay them in full, on time, don’t believe that BS about having to carry a balance to build history) is useful. And the longer your credit history is, the better it is. It takes years, so this is a long term issue.

Another side of purchase protection: safety! It’s not safe for you to carry tons of cash, and checks can very easily expose you to the risk of identity theft/fraud since your name, address and sometimes phone number are all printed on the check. If it can happen to Bernanke’s wife, it can happen to you! When you’re making a big purchase, you can put it on your card and pay it off when you get home.

** For example, my go-to credit card was out of commission when I was on my cross-country trip, I had to wait 7-10 business days for them to send the new card. I had other cards I don’t use as much but ready to go in my wallet so I didn’t have to withdraw a ton of cash or carry a debit card and lots of cash on me while traveling in the city. The great thing about American Express cards, at least before the recession, was that they would always overnight you a replacement card free of charge. I don’t know if they still do now, but it was a cool and handy perk.**

As always, the key tenets to using credit cards responsibly is to make sure they work for you by not carrying a balance and being subject to interest charges, always pay on time to avoid late fees and two-cycle billing (to be explained at a later date), and be certain you have the cash to cover the charge.

When you’re ready for more financial basics, let me know. I’m more than happy to whip up more cool sensible advice you want to hear. 😉

July 2, 2009

Credit Card Fraud

is just not peachy. Even though both credit cards on this account have been in my possession, someone managed to get the number on June 24th, attempted a $1 charge on it 50 miles away, and then went to (gas station) town on it the next day in the amounts of $85 and $75.

This is the reason I use credit cards instead of debit. I’m not responsible for those charges, or I shouldn’t be, anyway, and Chase has already closed that account and issued new cards. But I’m still ticked. I’ll be without my primary use card for five business days, smack dab in the middle of my trip which is inconvenient but how the heck did someone get the whole card number? That’s downright unsettling.

In any case, things seem to be well in hand for now. In ten business days, a set of Fraud Verification paperwork will need to be filled out and that should be the end of that. I hope.

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