• Posts Tagged ‘rewards’

    Drinks On Us, Flights On You

    by  • March 9, 2007 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Ever since we’ve received the Citibank AAdvantage card, we’ve been thinking of all of the possible ways that we could maximize our mileage. Thus I present to you this case study: Happy hour.

    The last few weekends, my co-workers and I have been extending happy hour to a happy 5 or 6 hours. Sometimes only a few of us go, but on other occasions we’ve had a crowd of 15 or more people. Most people don’t stay past the first hour and only have one drink; others tend to stick around for a few more drinks and order food. When people leave they throw in whatever amount they owe – I’ve been the money collector more than once and I’ve never needed to ask for more to cover the bill. In fact, on occasion people overpay (in which we all agree that the extra should just be added to the tip).

    Normally I contribute to the bill using my personal allowance money to fund my libations, but the last few times the bill came close to $500. During those times I assumed my position as the money guy, and saw there was enough to cover the bill. Instead of paying with cash, I paid with the mileage rewards card. I then pocketed the cash, and the next day I deposited it into our account and put it into our savings account where it earns interest until the bill comes.

    I just hope I don’t become an alcoholic just for the miles.

    We’re Still Using Credit Cards, But Not Adding To Our Debt

    by  • February 21, 2007 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Last month, we paid off all of our non 0% credit card debt. We’re currently on track to pay off the rest of the credit card debt, which is at 0%, by the end of the year. So we thought we would celebrate in the most logical way possible: by getting another credit card.

    I applied for, and obtained the Citi AAdvantage card. The rationale: to pay for our honeymoon flights.

    My company gives us the freedom to book our own travel whenever we need to go somewhere for business. Since Her had a ton of American Airlines miles from her college days, I decided to book all of my travel using that airline as well. Since I started this job a little over two years ago, I’ve racked up about 15,000 miles.

    On this card, every dollar spent is equal to a mile. Once we spend over $300, we get 20,000 “free” miles. Also, this card will give me one complimentary companion domestic flight ticket when I book a American Airlines flight with this card. Since I’m going to go on a few business trips during the summer, we thought this would be a great way to get a very cheap vacation.

    In order to use this card wisely (responsibly?), we’ve made a couple of rules for ourselves, at least for now. The first order of business was to open a joint savings account at Chase, where we already do our checking (of course I waited until there was a $25 bonus for opening the account). We opened up this savings account so that every time we use this card we could go home and immediately transfer the amount we charged from our checking to the savings account. This ensures that we’ll have the funds to completely pay off the monthly bill.

    Next was to determine out what expenses would go on the card. We decided at first that recurring monthly expenses would be automatically charged to the card: cell phone, cable, phone/internet, insurance, etc. We figure that since we have to pay for all of that stuff anyway, why not get the miles?

    Finally, we determined what else can go on the card. Our answer: wedding stuff. Same rules apply here: as soon as we charge something for the wedding we go home and transfer money from our online savings account to our “holding” account.

    Not all credit card use is evil. Just irresponsible use.

    Our Bank Gave Us A Pie!

    by  • November 16, 2006 • Tagged:   • Comments

    Something extraordinary happened today: our bank gave us a pie! No strings attached, no rebates to fill out, no tricks just treats! Last year we opened an account at Meadows Credit Union when they offered a $120 bonus. They were super nice and way more personal than a regular corporate bank. I’ve been overall pleased with them. Today, I received a letter from them in the mail. It said,

    A special thank you from MCU: Enjoy this special gift of a sweet Baker’s Square Pie in appreciation of your eChecking relationship with MCU.

    Enclosed was a gift certificate good for one pie at Baker’s Square.

    I am stunned. I think this might be the first time a company has ever made me feel like they really appreciate my business. I heart pie! I heart MCU!

    Car Maintenance = Free Airfare

    by  • November 1, 2006 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    This past weekend we went out to the ‘burbs for dinner with some of Her’s family. Shortly after pulling out of their driveway, we heard thwump thwump thwump thwump thwump coming from the back of the car. I got out of the car to see what was wrong and discovered that one of the tires was flat. We pulled into a K-Mart parking lot down the road to change the flat tire and found there was a philips head screw neatly lodged in the tire tread.

    It was a little past due for us to do some maintenance anyway, so I brought the car in to get the tire replaced and have a bunch of other stuff done. The total cost of everything was a little over $300.

    Instead of this being a major financial headache, we’re looking at it as sort of a mixed blessing. Last week, we received in the mail a special promotion for one of my rewards credit cards: spend $300 from now until the end of the year and they’ll give us a free plane ticket. Fortunately for us, that card has a zero balance on it. We were going to pay for the services with cash, but now we’ll just use the rewards card and then pay that off as soon as we get the bill.

    We believe that credit cards can be used as a great tool to complement our financial plan. We’ve learned our lesson about overspending and credit card abuse. In this case it makes sense to use a card for the free plane ticket. Hopefully we can use it for Her to join me on one of my business trips sometime next year and we can have a cheap vacation.

    Bonus Whoring: A Critical Review

    by  • October 19, 2006 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    As consumers, we are constantly bombarded with enticing bonuses/gifts/rewards for joining/opening/using a product or service. We’ve completed several of these offers with varying degrees of success. Here’s how the cookies crumbled.

    What we did:
    Opened an unnecessary checking account
    What we got:
    $125 cash, deposited into the account in $25 monthly increments
    Degree of hassle:
    High. Completing this offer required us to change our direct deposit at work, maintain two accounts at a bank with no local branches, tie up a hundred dollars a month, sign up for a complicated online banking access, and wait half a year for the rewards.
    Would we do it again?
    Maybe. But next time we’d make sure we have a use for the bank’s services and access to a real teller.

    What we did:
    Purchased a winter’s worth of canned vegetables (on sale and with coupons) in one grocery trip
    What we got:
    Two free movie passes
    Degree of hassle:
    Minor. The biggest challenge was hauling it all in from the car.
    Would we do it again?
    Absolutely. The free movie certificates worked like cash and allowed us to have a guilt-free date night. And we made good use of the bargain vegetables too. Two movie tickets would have cost more than we paid for the vegetables!

    What we did:
    Transferred a big balance to a credit card that requires two monthly purchases (no minimum dollar amount required)
    What we got:
    Zero percent interest on the transferred balance and the new purchases until we completely pay it off (or forget to make two purchases a month)
    Degree of hassle:
    Huge. Keeping track of the purchases is tricky because you have to hit that sweet spot in between billing cycles to make sure they both get credited in time. The enormity of the consequences for missing a purchase is so great that it causes stress.
    Would we do it again?
    Probably not. In our case, it allowed us to save hundreds of dollars in interest, and we have a timeline of when it will be paid off. But even with careful management the stress level is just too high for my taste.

    What we did:
    Opened a low-interest, low-minimum-balance-required savings account
    What we got:
    $50 cash bonus
    Degree of hassle:
    Medium. Opening the account was easy, but shuffling money around at every payday was annoying. And after the initial bonus was awarded, the interest was too low to make it worthwhile and we had to close the account.
    Would we do it again?
    Yes. The bonus we earned initially offset the low interest rate. Because we closed it early and kept only the bare minimum in the account, we came out ahead.

    What we did:
    Spammed our friends with credit card offers and similar promotions through a referral website (one of those “get five friends to complete offers, and you get a prize! websites)
    What we got:
    An ipod
    Degree of hassle:
    Low. It didn’t take long to get five friends to complete offers, and we received the ipod shortly thereafter
    Would we do it again?
    Absolutely not. Even though it was easy, we felt kinda dirty afterward. It isn’t cool to ask your friends to sign up for crappy offers just so you can get a prize. Nobody seemed to mind, but we know it wasn’t the right thing to do.

    The bottom line: there are some things (like your time and some minor annoyance) that are reasonable trade-offs. But you should never sacrifice your relationships or morals for an easy buck.

    It Pays To [Save Your] Discover [Advertisements]!

    by  • September 25, 2006 • Tagged:   • Comments

    A few months ago I received a promotion from Discover Card: By signing up for automatic payment of my cell phone bill with my Discover Card, I would receive a $30 cash back bonus. I carefully read the promotion, signed up for automatic billing, carefully filed the promotional flier away with my Discover Card statements…and waited.
    I waited for 3 months for the $30 cash back bonus credit to appear. Nothing! Finally last week I called Discover, and they agreed that I had met the qualifications and should have received the bonus. The sales rep agreed to notify the proper department and credit my account. Finally today I see the bonus has been credited. But I never would have been able to argue my case without having saved both the promotional flier and my credit card statements.

    Moral of the story is, if you want to get credit for a promotion, make sure you save the original promotional offer. It is easy to file the flier along with your credit card statements, and then you will always know where to find it.

    Save Receipts, Save Money!

    by  • September 14, 2006 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Start saving your receipts, and you could save some serious cash! I never used to save receipts, but for the last year we have saved every single receipt – and saved over $125. Here are ways that saving receipts can help you save cash:

    • If you change your mind, you can return your purchase and get cash back.
    • There are a lot of errors on grocery store charges. If you scan your receipt and find an overcharge, you can get cash for the price difference, and may even get the item free.
    • If the item fails or is defective, you can usually return it for cash or credit.
    • You may need the receipt to make a claim on the warranty.
    • If the item later goes on sale, you can get cash back for the difference.
    • If you find a rebate offer after the purchase, you may still be able to qualify if you still have the receipt and packaging.
    • If the purchase was supposed to count toward any kind of rewards program, you may need the receipt if the purchase is not credited.
    • You may discover that the purchase qualified for a tax incentive, and may need the receipt for tax purposes.
    • You may want to resell the item at consignment or elsewhere. You can often get more for the sale if you can include the original receipt with the purchase price. Some consignment stores will not accept items without the receipt.

    In the last year, I have returned a garment that I changed my mind on, got store credit for a defective printer cartridge, got several grocery items free for being overcharged, got cash back when a vase from Pottery Barn went on sale a week after I purchased it, qualified for a “Free salad dressing!” rebate after I already bought the dressing, got credit for a Discover card promotion that I was originally not credited for, and got tax deductions for items I donated to charity. I estimate that by saving our receipts, we saved at least $125 this year.

    Rewards on Rent? Not With Discover Card

    by  • July 12, 2006 • Tagged:   • Comments

    We’ve been trying lately to figure out how we can maximize rewards for the things we do anyway, like pay rent. I was thinking that it might be possible to purchase a money order with a credit card, use the money order to pay rent, and get the rewards for it. We have some rewards cards with zero balances, and it would be easy just to pay the rent on those and immediately pay off the monthly balance. We want to earn rewards to save up and help pay for our wedding and honeymoon. I called Discover today to check if my plan is possible: It isn’t.

    Any kind of wire transfer or money order purchase is considered a cash advance and is assessed a 3% cash advance transaction fee plus being billed at the high “cash advance rate.” Also, cash advances aren’t eligible for rewards. Even those checks they send you count as cash advances and are ineligible for rewards. Thank goodness the representative was able to confirm this for me, so we know never to buy any kind of money service with a credit card.

    Anyone have any ideas on how to earn rewards for paying rent and other monthly obligations?

    Make Your Money Multi-Task!

    by  • June 10, 2006 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    I am expected to multi-task my entire day, and I bet you are too. But how often do we demand the same multi-tasking performance from our money? Whether your money is coming in or going it, it can be doing two things at once.

    Coming In (Income):
    The easiest way to make your income multi-task is to take advantage of the entire benefit package offered to you at work. Putting part of your income into a 401(k) or similar program helps reduce your taxes, save for retirement, and can even earn you a substantial bonus in the form of a company match. Other payroll deduction programs for parking, child daycare, health, etc. will reduce your taxes and can help create a safety net for unexpected expenses.

    Going Out (Expenses)
    They say you can only spend a dollar once. That might have been true for your parents but it doesn’t have to be true today. Every time you make a purchase, look for ways to multi-task your money. Can you earn a rebate from the manufacturer or store? Can you earn rewards through a loyalty or credit card program? Can you save for college with Upromise or its newer competitor, LittleGrad? Can you negotiate a better deal and pocket the difference?

    For the last year we’ve been seriously demanding that our money multi-task. Sometimes we are able to get six different rewards on the same purchase. We also fully utilize the benefits packages offered at work.

    $125 Richer – Thanks Bankdeals!

    by  • May 16, 2006 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Though it is a small hassle to open an extra checking account purely for the incentive offered, the Meadows Credit Union deal posted by Bankdeals today was just too good to pass up. I called the bank to confirm that there is no minimum balance required, and there mostly isn’t. The eChecking account comes with a mandatory Member Savings Account, and each has a $5 minimum balance in order to stay open. So the total minimum balance required for the deal is $10 (This is for a 0% interest account. If you want to earn .65% interest, the minimum is $2500.). Even without the addition accrued interest, making $125 off of $10 is like earning 1250% interest! Now that’s a great deal!

    I started the account opening process today during lunch. The online application was quick and straightforward, and after that I had to fax in a signature form. Now I’m waiting for a customer service rep to phone me, which they say will happen within one business day. Not bad! After I speak with her I should receive some account information in the mail, and then I just have to set up a direct deposit and I’m all set. Easy breezy.

    Rewards From a Debit Card!

    by  • March 5, 2006 • Tagged:   • Comments

    Chase Bank is now offering a new rewards program with their debit card! Here are the highlights of the fine print:

    The program is free for customers with a Chase Check Card or the old BankOne The One Card. You can register your card at www.chase.com/visaextras. If you have multiple cards for one account, you’ll need to register each card separately. Points from different cards can not be combined. However, if your card is lost or stolen your points will be transferred to your new card. If you have multiple accounts, you can register all your cards (but the points will accrue separately on each of the cards and they cannot be combined).

    You get one point for every dollar you spend, including tax. The points can take up to 90 days to be credited to your account. Points expire after 3 years.

    Points are redeemable for rewards from select merchants. There is no charge to redeem your points. Points are not redeemable for cash.

    You must sign for all in-store purchases you make with an enrolled Visa card in order for such purchases to be deemed Qualifying Purchases; do not use a Personal Identification Number (PIN) when paying for your purchases with your enrolled Visa card if you want to earn points for such purchases. When making an in-store purchase (at a store, restaurant, or other merchant location) with your enrolled Visa card and you are presented with a choice of “credit” or “debit/ATM,” choose “credit” to ensure you will be asked to sign for your purchase and earn Chase Visa Extras points for Qualifying Purchases. When making a purchase online with your enrolled Visa card, make sure you always select “Visa” if you have that choice to ensure you will earn Chase Visa Extras points for Qualifying Purchases. Some purchases that can be easily converted to cash, such as buying a gift card, will not count. Online payments through the Chase website don’t count, but payments made at retailer bill payment websites do. For example, you can’t pay your electric bill through the Chase website, but you can pay it through your electricity company’s website.

    You’ll lose your points for any item that you return. Also, you won’t accrue points if you make a purchase while your account is overdrawn.

    The redeemable cash value of the points seems to fall along these lines:
    2,000 points = $5
    4,000 points = $10
    10,000 points = $25
    80,000 points =$200
    100,000 points =$250

    So, the rewards are around .25%, far less than the 1-5% rewards available with many credit cards.

    Combining offers to maximize savings

    by  • February 5, 2006 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    We try to minimize our monthly expenses on boring everyday items so we have more money for fun stuff like dining out. There are many types of product offers available, and by combining multiple offers you can get products for free or even profit from your purchase. The types of offers available include:

    1.Sales

    Get to know the regular prices of your favorite products, then look for the rock bottom prices offered during sales. Memorize both prices so you know the range of prices a product can sell for. For example, cereal is usually $4.99 a box at the regular price, but a rock-bottom sale price is 2 for $4.00, or $2.00 per box. So the price range for this product is $2.00 to $5.00. Knowing this range will help you determine how good of a deal it is.

    2.Coupons
    Like sale prices, coupon savings also vary over time. Coupons are usually at their highest value when a product is new and lowest when the product is an old favorite. Some old favorite brands do offer high value coupons when they are targeting a new customer. For example an old favorite brand of pet food might offer a low-value coupon in the Sunday paper (for it’s loyal customers) but offer a high-value coupon in a gift bag given away at pet adoption centers (to lure new pet owners). Search for and stock up on high-value coupons.

    3.Rebates
    Rebates are often a good value because they require you to put forth effort. Remember Econ 101, where the reward must offset the effort required? Check store displays, online stores, and advertisements to search for rebates. These are becoming more popular, so ALWAYS check for a rebate before you buy a big ticket item. Then remember to fill it out and mail it in!

    4.Loyalty cards
    These are the “Value Cards” that are given out to regular shoppers at grocery, pharmacies, and retail stores. They typically only grant you the opportunity to pay the stores sale prices instead of their regular prices, but sometimes these cards offer perks such as coupons, rebates, etc. Be sure to sign up for these cards (so long as they’re free) at every store you shop.

    5.Loyalty websites

    The most famous of these is www.upromise.com. You sign up on their website and give them your loyalty and credit card numbers. Then, every time you purchase a designated product (the list is on their website) using one of the registered cards, they automatically deposit a tiny rebate in an online account. When you accumulate enough cash, you can request a check be mailed to you, and the money can be used to pay for educational expenses. These websites also offer seasonal promotions such as free shipping (visit here) or extra rebates on designated products. This is an easy way to save cash because it requires no effort after you do the initial sign-up.

    6.Referrer websites
    These sites display links to online retailers, who offer special deals for customers who are referred through the link site. One great example is www.igive.com. This website will allow you to donate a percentage (it varies by retailer) of your purchase price to the charity of your choice. Or, if you’d rather pocket the cash yourself, you can just request a check. A similar site is www.mypoints.com. Instead of earning cash rebates, you earn points, which can then be redeemed for gift cards and other rewards.

    7. Credit card rewards programs.
    These are preferred credit cards that offer rewards based on your purchases. The rewards include cash or gift card rebates, air miles, etc, typically ranging from 1-5% of your purchase totals. To qualify, you usually need to have a good credit rating. Also beware of rewards cards that charge an annual fee or other fees. And of course, you would have to pay off your balance every month to avoid the interest charges.

    For the ultimate in cost savings, try to combine as many offers as possible! We have sometimes been able to combine as many as six kinds of rewards and actually profit on our purchase! Things we have profited on in the last year include 24 rolls of toilet paper (made $10), toothpaste (made 11 cents), cheddar cheese (made $2.99) and lots more! Nothing feels better than bringing home a product you got for free and knowing there’s a rebate in the mail.