Your Personal Finance Pro http://yourpfpro.com Personal Finance for Young Professionals Thu, 19 Apr 2018 15:53:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 31591919 Reader Question: How To Use Points & Miles To Get To North Carolina http://yourpfpro.com/reader-question-use-points-miles-get-north-carolina/ http://yourpfpro.com/reader-question-use-points-miles-get-north-carolina/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 13:30:26 +0000 http://yourPFpro.com/?p=5365 Today I’m featuring a question I received via e-mail a few weeks ago.  Reader RB would love to go visit her boyfriend in North Carolina but she’s a starving student.  So how can she use miles and points to make it all the way from Cali to North Carolina for free?! I was hoping to […]

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Today I’m featuring a question I received via e-mail a few weeks ago.  Reader RB would love to go visit her boyfriend in North Carolina but she’s a starving student.  So how can she use miles and points to make it all the way from Cali to North Carolina for free?!

I was hoping to pick your brain about credit cards with mileage rewards points because I’m wholly unfamiliar with differences in credit cards. I’m currently using a CITI dividend master card but am thinking of switching to a credit card with good mileage rewards points because I have to make monthly cross-country trips to see my boyfriend and they are getting expensive.

I was wondering what your recommendations are for this? Should I get a card that specifically rewards in miles or one that has more general points that can be applied to miles? Do you have any recommendations for which specific cards are better? I don’t know if this would impact your recs but:

-Flight options to north carolina are limited so I normally have to fly US/American or … Delta (which I try to avoid like the plague)

-I always pay off my credit card balance in full at the end of the month so I don’t accrue interest. Once I get to a point where this isn’t feasible I will have to switch to a low interest card but for the meantime I’m not accruing interest)

I love answering questions like this because there are very few things in life that make me happier than redeeming points and miles for free travel.  Most people probably don’t believe me when I tell them I have over 20 credit cards, a 799 credit score and close to a million points and miles, but it’s true.

The reason why I like to share this information is because I’m hoping that it encourages you to embark on this journey with me.  There’s really no better feeling than sitting in business class on Turkish Airlines on the way back from your honeymoon knowing that you paid less than $100 for the whole flight while everyone else paid thousands!

Ok on to reader RB’s question:

Build A Solid Foundation

I was pretty impressed with this reader’s basic knowledge of points and miles.  She knew the difference between a transferable points program like Citi and Amex and a miles earning program like US Airways or American Airlines.  It doesn’t take much time, but the first thing you’ll want to do in a situation like this is a little preliminary research.  There are a ton of great travel and points blogs out there (Points Guy, Travel Sort, etc) or you can just Google whatever topic you have in mind.  Spend an hour or two researching the basics and that will make things a lot easier.

Sign-Up Bonuses >>> Spending Bonuses

Getting 2 or even 3x back on all of your purchases is nice but compared to sign-up bonuses they mean relatively nothing.  Most of the cards that I sign up for offer a 50,000 point bonus which means that at 1x back you would have to spend $50,000 per year on your credit card in order to get an equivalent bonus.  In this case, reader RB is a student so she likely won’t be able to spend anywhere near that much.  So sign-up bonuses are going to be the way to go.

Transferable Points vs. Airline Miles

For those just getting started with the travel rewards, I normally like to recommend transferable points programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) or Amex Membership Rewards (MR) since they have so many great transfer partners.  It takes a while to learn the ins and outs of airline and hotel specific redemptions but with transferable points networks you can redeem your points for flights, hotels, cash back and more.

Get 40,000 Points When You Sign Up For The US Airways Mastercard From Barclays

In this case though, since reader RB has a specific route in mind it will be easy to check what the redemption options are like on US Air/AA.  It’s always preferable to know where you want to travel or where you want to stay before you apply for a card.

Getting to North Carolina

Reader RB let me know that her three main options are US Air, AA and Delta.  Now right off the bat, we can pretty much eliminate Delta.  In the travel world, there’s a reason why their points are affectionately referred to as ‘Sky Pesos’.  I’ve only redeemed points once for travel on Delta and it was only because I had 15,000 miles sitting in my account forever that I wanted to get rid of.

US Air and AA are merging right now so you should be able to book either airline with either company’s points but first you need to check for availability.  US Airways operates a direct flight from Los Angeles to Raleigh-Durham but you can also book this exact same flight through American Airlines.  Here’s what I found:

US Airways: LAX to Raleigh Durham Award Travel Availability Calendar

US Airways: LAX to Raleigh Durham Award Travel Availability Calendar

I did a quick search for flights and there was a ton of travel reward availability, all days of the week and all months of the year. You can do the same thing too as long as you have a frequent flyer account with US Airways. You don’t even need to have enough points to actually book the flight to search either.

US Airways: LAX to Raleigh Durham Final Points Cost

US Airways: LAX to Raleigh Durham Final Points Cost

I already have this card and one of the cool benefits is that you get a 5,000 point discount on flights. So if you’re approved for the card, it would only cost 20,000 points + $36.20 (instead of 25,000 points).  Plus you get your first checked bag free so there aren’t any additional fees you’ll have to worry about.

US Airways: LAX to Raleigh Durham Cash Price

US Airways: LAX to Raleigh Durham Cash Price

If you were to pay cash for this exact flight it would cost you $480 so you’re getting a great redemption value of 2.4 cents per point.  Normally, I’m happy with anything in the 1.5-2 cent range so this is a great redemption deal!

Alternatively if you were to book using AA points, it would cost you 25,000 points + $11.20 in fees.  That’s still a pretty good redemption rate considering the flight costs $538.20.  You can also see that it’s actually the same exact flight too but it’s operated by US Airways.

American Airlines LAX to Raleigh Durham Points Cost

American Airlines LAX to Raleigh Durham Points Cost

American Airlines LAX to Raleigh Durham Cash Cost

American Airlines LAX to Raleigh Durham Cash Cost

The US Airways Barclay Card

In this scenario, I think the best card for reader RB is the Barclays US Airways Mastercard.  It comes with a 40,000 point sign-up bonus which will be good enough for two round-trips from LAX to North Carolina.  Even after the $89 annual fee, that’s close to $1,000 of tax free travel rewards – a great deal in my book.  She’ll also get to take advantage of the 5,000 point discount and the first checked bag free with this card.

Now Barclays is known to be one of the stricter companies when it comes to new card applications but since RB already has an established line of credit, she probably has a pretty high credit score.  As a student, it’s tough to get approved for cards because you have no income but there are certain companies that allow you to put your household income and if you’re married you can usually put your spouse’s income too.  And if you’re denied, always make sure to call the reconsideration line.  Here are some tips for calling.

If the Barclays card doesn’t work out for whatever reason, the next best bet is probably one of the Citi American Airlines cards.  It’s much easier to get approved with these cards and they usually offer a 30-50k offer although I’d recommend holding out for a 50k offer.

If you’d like to apply for the Barclay US Airways Card please use our referral link.  You’ll get 40,000 points and we’ll get a small commission that helps support the site.

Readers, what do you think about reader RB’s situation and what would you recommend?  Isn’t a sign-up bonus the perfect solution to this problem?

-Harry @ PF Pro

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My Latest Credit Card App O Rama Nets 250,000 Points and $200: Applying and Spending http://yourpfpro.com/latest-credit-card-app-o-rama-nets-250000-points-200-applying-spending/ http://yourpfpro.com/latest-credit-card-app-o-rama-nets-250000-points-200-applying-spending/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 12:20:16 +0000 http://yourPFpro.com/?p=4998 This is part two of our two part series about my latest credit card App O Rama and how I netted 250,000 points and $200.  Part 1 covered preparation and strategy for an App O Rama of this kind of magnitude and today we’ll talk about how the application process and spending works. I ended up deciding […]

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My Latest Credit Card App O Rama Nets 250,000 Points and $200: Applying and Spending

Photo Credit

This is part two of our two part series about my latest credit card App O Rama and how I netted 250,000 points and $200.  Part 1 covered preparation and strategy for an App O Rama of this kind of magnitude and today we’ll talk about how the application process and spending works.

I ended up deciding to apply for four cards for my fiancee with four different banks.  Here are the four cards I applied for for her:

US Airways Mastercard – 40,000 Points After First Purchase

I decided to add this card because it will no longer exist next year and it offered a nice 40k bonus without any spending requirement.  Since it’s a Barclaycard you also want to do this first in any churn since Barclay tends to be the most strict when it comes to applications.  The annual fee is $89 and it is NOT waived for the first year but I think it’s a pretty good deal for an easy 40k points.

I don’t ever fly US Airways but since US Airways and AA are merging next year, these points will be converted into AA points if I never use them.  Additionally, there is a very good chance that she will be offered a bonus promotion of 15,000 points if she spends $1k for 3 consecutive months.  I was offered this on my US Airways card last year which means that this deal could be worth up to 55k points.

I applied for my fiancee online and her application went pending but I got an e-mail saying she had been approved for a 10k credit limit just seconds later.  You can also check the status of your application by going to myapplicationstatus.com

If you’re interested in using my referral link, you can sign up for this card here.

Starwood Preferred Guest Amex Card – 30,000 Bonus Points After $5 Spend in 6 Months

I added my fiancee as an authorized user a few years ago on my Amex Gold card but that was her only Amex card.  Since I was going to finally have to pay the annual fee on the Gold card, I knew that I would be canceling it but I didn’t want her to lose that old credit line.  The cool thing about Amex though is that they will let you backdate your new cards to your oldest Amex card.  So all I had to do was apply for an Amex card for her in this round of applications, backdate her new card to her old card and then I could cancel her old card without losing that credit history.

I decided on the SPG Amex because I really value Starwood points.  You can get up to 5 cents/point if you use the cash and points option at some of the nicest properties in the world.  So that 30,000 point bonus could be worth up to $1,500 in hotel stays.  Additionally, you can also do a 1:1 transfer to one of Starwood’s 32 airline partners and get a 25% bonus.

Related Article: How I Got $1,750 from one Amex SPG Card Offer

I applied for her online and was instantly approved.  The offer I applied for was their old offer of only 25k points but once their new offer of 30k points came out a couple weeks later I called Amex to see if they would match the new offer.  They told me they might be able to and that I should call back in once I reach the $5,000 in spending.

I ended up spending a couple thousand on this card and then buying $3,000 worth of AMEX gift cards for just $3.95 and I’ll slowly liquidate the gift cards over the next few months.  Amex gift cards can be bought directly from Amex for a $3.95 fee and $8.95 shipping fee.  I used a promo code that is now expired for free shipping but there is usually some type of code available that will either wave the gift card fee or waive the shipping.  Additionally, be sure to go through a cash back site like BeFrugal and you’ll get a 3% rebate on Amex Prepaid Card purchases.

It’s normally pretty easy to spend $5k in 6 months using regular spending habits but I had to do it in two months so that I could get AMEX to match their 30k offer which expired on June 30.

Another great reason why I chose the Amex SPG Personal card for her is because I already have the business version of this card.  So during my next App O Rama I can send myself a referral link from my fiancee’s account and she’ll get an additional 5k points if/when I’m approved.  Conversely, during her next round of applications I can send her a referral link for the Amex SPG Business card and I’ll get an additional 5k points if/when she’s approved.

If you’re interested in signing up for this card and supporting the site, send me an e-mail and I can send you a referral link.

Chase Ink Bold Mastercard – 60k Points After $5k Spend in 6 Months

I would have applied for this card for my fiancee even if the bonus was only 50k but seeing 60k made this deal even sweeter.  Most people don’t venture into business credit cards but that’s because they don’t often realize that the definition of a business is very loose when it comes to applying for credit cards.  Just remember that anything you do, whether it’s selling baseball cards on eBay or blogging online can be a business and make you eligible for a business card.

Since I have my fiancee help out with blogging stuff from time to time, I put that down as her business and used appropriate income and expense numbers.  I’ve seen people get approved with as little as $0 in income and I’ve also seen people get denied with tens of thousands of dollars of income.  But the general trend is the more you put down for expenses and profit the better your chances are of getting approved.  If your business has had gross revenue in the $10k+ range for 3 years or more, and expenses in the $5k+ range for 3 years you should be just fine in getting approved.

I applied for this card online and her application went pending.  I immediately called into the reconsideration line and talked to a nice rep who took down some more information and put me on hold for a while.  The things they may ask you about are:

  • When did your business start?
  • What was your gross income and revenue for each of the last three years?
  • What is your total income?
  • Do you have another job (ie day job)?

Once the rep came back, she went over some things and ended up denying me for the card!  I talked to her for a while and asked her if there was anything I could do but she seemed pretty firm in her decision.  I hung up and called right back though; this is a little trick that us card churners do because often times certain reps are more willing to help than others.  I employ this strategy all the time when I’m trying to get fees refunded or seeing if I can get a discount or anything like that.

When you hang up and call a recon line, it actually opens up a brand new review of your application.  The second time around I got a new rep and I told her that I wanted to double check the numbers I put down on my application since I did them off the top of my head.  Sure enough, when she read them aloud, they were ‘a lot less’ than the actual numbers.  So I gave her the ‘real revenue and expense information’ and she put me on hold again.

Related Article: The Best Card for Beginner Churners: Chase Sapphire Preferred

But when the rep finally came back, she too denied me!  I wasn’t done yet though since there is a little trick you can use when applying for a business or personal card with Chase (or any credit card company for that matter).  She gave me two reasons for denying my application, the first was that the business did not have enough history yet and the second was that they could not extend any more credit due to personal limit being reached.  When I heard that second part, a light went off in my head and I immediately offered to move 5k over from my fiancee’s CSP card to open up credit for this card.

I think the rep could tell that there was no way I was going to give up and so she finally obliged.  This just goes to show you that just because you are denied once (or even twice like in this case) that doesn’t mean you should give up.  Get creative and figure out a way to get approved through the recon line.

I ended up meeting the minimum spending through a combination of normal spending and buying Visa Prepaid Gift Cards at Staples.  Staples has rebate deals on Visa gift cards from time to time and the Ink Plus card gets you 5% back at office supply stores.  So you can buy $200 Visa Prepaid cards for $206.95 and you get 1035 in Chase Ultimate Rewards Points which is worth anywhere from $10-$20.  That means that you’re actually making money on this deal.  And if you sign up for Visa Savings Edge you’ll get an additional 1% rebate back on your purchases via a statement credit.

You can unload the cards via Walmart and Bluebird, Amazon Payments or via normal spend at your leisure.  One thing to watch out for is if you apply for multiple Ink cards and go to the recon line, Chase reps have been known to look at your spending on previous Ink cards.  So it might be best to spread out some of your purchase since it would be pretty suspicious to have $5,000 in charges at Staples and no other merchants.

Citi AA Executive Card – 100k Points, $200 Statement Credit and Admirals Club Access After $10k Spend in 3 Months

I was going to apply for the 50k version of this card for my fiancee but then I decided to give Loyal3 a shot and use it to meet the extremely high spend requirement on this much higher bonus card.  100k bonus points is the highest offer I’ve ever seen and it’s also the highest offer I’ve ever applied for.  I actually already have one of these cards myself but I thought it would be good to boost up my fiancee’s AA points balance too.  These types of offers don’t come around too often and it turns out that if you can spend the $10,000 quickly, you can actually cancel the card, get the annual fee re-imbursed and keep the points.

The card has a pretty hefty annual fee of $450 but it also comes with a $200 statement credit after your first purchase and Admirals Club (AC) Access for you and a guest for as long as you have the card.  So if you can spend $10k in 3 months you’re essentially paying $250 (not including AC access) for 100,000 points and that’s a pretty good deal in my book. You can book a round trip off peak ticket from North America to Europe in business class for 100,000 points just to give you an idea of what the points are worth.

I applied for this card last and the application went pending.  All I had to do was call the recon line though and provide a cell phone number and I was approved for a 13k limit.  The card comes in this big fancy box (I guess that’s how they justify the annual fee) but it’s really not worth it to pay the annual fee once the first year is up.

I used a combination of Amazon Payments, normal spend and mainly Loyal3 to spend the $10,000 in just under 2 months.  I was able to cancel the card within 37 days of the annual fee posting and I ended up making $200 and getting 110,00 points from this deal 🙂

This was the most money I’ve ever had to spend and I doubt anyone could truly spend this much in 3 months.  Instead, you’ll have to resort to manufactured spending or MS.  Right now the easiest ways are Amazon Payments and buying prepaid Visa cards and unloading them at your leisure or via Walmart/Bluebird.  There are some techniques that involve Evolve (a service that pays your bills) and if you don’t mind paying a fee you could use Paypal or Google Wallet to send money to your spouse and spend that way.  Again, you have to be careful doing it all at once though since a $10k paypal payment might draw some suspicion from someone.

So there you have it, only four cards this time around but after spend and sign-up bonuses I netted 250,000 points and $200 cash.  This was the most I’ve ever spent in such a short time but it really wasn’t all that much work.  I don’t have any immediate redemptions in mind but we are thinking about taking a trip to Peru next Winter and of course I’m sure we’ll be back to Hawaii this year or next.

Readers, what do you think about my fiancee’s latest churn?  Do you think all the research and planning that went into this effort was worth it?

-Harry @ PF Pro

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Do You Pay With Cash or Credit Cards? http://yourpfpro.com/pay-cash-credit-cards/ http://yourpfpro.com/pay-cash-credit-cards/#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 12:51:30 +0000 http://yourPFpro.com/?p=3778 Most of the credit card articles on this site have to do with the points and miles you can accumulate by signing up for various cards and spending on daily purchases.  But one of the first things I recommend to someone struggling with their spending is to get rid of their cards and start paying […]

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Do You Pay With Cash or Credit CardsMost of the credit card articles on this site have to do with the points and miles you can accumulate by signing up for various cards and spending on daily purchases.  But one of the first things I recommend to someone struggling with their spending is to get rid of their cards and start paying solely with cash.  It’s no secret that it’s easier to spend more money with credit cards versus cash and there are tons of studies(here’s one) that prove that fact if you don’t want to take my word for it.

But once you’ve got a grip of your finances you will probably notice that paying with credit has a lot of benefits.  We all know about the cash back rewards you can get but there are also things like sign up bonuses, fraud protection and just plain convenience.  Even though I’m always telling my friends to sign up for Ally Bank for their free ATM withdrawals, most of them still use big banks like Chase or Citi and we have to plan our trips around finding a Chase ATM.  That’s just an added layer of inconvenience to paying with cash.

I’ve got 25 credit cards right now but I’ve got them all set up on Autopay and I check all my daily transactions at once using Mint every morning.  The whole process takes about 2-5 minutes depending on how many purchases I’ve been making and then I’m done.  I like this system because the one thing I value the most in my life is my time.  No matter how much money you’ve got you’re never going to have more time than someone else(we don’t live in a Justin Timberlake movie).  So I try to live my life as efficiently as possible and credit does wonders to simplify my life.

Credit Cards are Convenient

Right now, I’m putting most of my purchases on my Barclay Arrival card since it’s giving me 2.2% cash back on all purchases.  But the rewards probably pale in comparison to how much more I’m spendingthan if I were to be paying with all cash.  Just think about the last time you were out with your friends and you paid for that extra round of drinks.  When you pay with your credit card, it just doesn’t feel like real money since all you’re doing is signing a piece of paper.  You don’t see the actual transaction debit your account unless you use a service like Moven which alerts you of your spending in real time.

I live in Southern California and nearly every single business I frequent accepts credit cards.  Even food trucks are taking credit cards now that inventions like Square have popped up enabling merchants to pay a small percentage of every credit card transaction.  Right now, my wallet consists of two credit cards, one ATM card, my drivers license and a few business cards, that’s it.  It’s actually more of a bill holder and you can barely see it through my slim fit pants!  If I were to lose any of those credit cards, it wouldn’t be a big deal at all since I could just get them replaced and ask for free expedited shipping.  I’d only have to go a day or two without those credit cards.

Even though I would never make a $20,000 purchase, the two credit cards in my wallet carry a combined credit limit of 20k.  That’s like walking around with $20,000 in your pocket but there is absolutely no risk.  If my cards get stolen, I would simply give my bank a call and let them know when it was stolen and I would not be responsible for any fraudulent charges.  If your card is stolen, Federal Law limits the liability of cardholders to $50 no matter what amount the unauthorized user charges.  And since the credit card business is so competitive, every one of the major companies tend to waive this fee.  That’s why you never have to pay any amount for unauthorized charges when your card is stolen.

Tracking Your Finances

Since I’m big on technology, I like having all the information about my spending patterns and habits at my fingertips.  It’s pretty easy to analyze my budget since I pay for everything with my credit cards.  I don’t need to enter all my cash expenditures into a spreadsheet one by one since I have computers that can do all that for me.  There are times when I need to look up certain transactions and credit cards make that really easy.  When it comes to tracking your finances, credit cards are vastly superior to paying with cash.

Readers, what do you think about paying with cash versus credit?  Do you think the convenience and benefits of credit cards justify the extra spending?

-Harry @ PF Pro

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100,000 American Airline Miles for One Credit Card Sign-Up http://yourpfpro.com/100000-american-airline-miles-one-credit-card-sign/ http://yourpfpro.com/100000-american-airline-miles-one-credit-card-sign/#comments Fri, 14 Mar 2014 12:39:05 +0000 http://yourPFpro.com/?p=4387 Since I’ll be using nearly half a million points this summer on various hotels and flights for my honeymoon I’ve been on the lookout for a big score when it comes to credit card sign-up bonuses. I still currently have a few hundred thousand points left but my accounts have taken a huge hit during […]

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100,000 American Airline Miles for One Credit Card Sign-UpSince I’ll be using nearly half a million points this summer on various hotels and flights for my honeymoon I’ve been on the lookout for a big score when it comes to credit card sign-up bonuses. I still currently have a few hundred thousand points left but my accounts have taken a huge hit during the past few months due to all these bookings.

It can be a challenge to redeem points when you need them so I try to keep my points diversified amongst several different programs. Right now most of my points are with Amex, Citi, American Airlines and US Airways. I’ve also got a bunch of points scattered around with various hotel chains and airlines but the balances aren’t nearly as high. For the average points & miles traveler, I think Amex MR and Chase UR make the most sense since they have the best transfer options. But I also like Southwest Rewards points a lot since they offer 4 cards with 50,000 point sign-up bonuses and their points are so easy and flexible to use.

Right after the big three, American Airline’s miles program is my personal favorite since I’ve used AA points to go to Hawaii twice(Maui and Kauai) and I’ll be using them on a flight from LAX to JFK to Rome(FCO) this summer. I’ve actually acquired and spent over 300k AA points in the last few years but I was running out of Citi AA cards to apply for. So when I saw that they were offering a 100k offer on the Citi Executive card I had to jump on it.

Citi Executive AA Card

The Citi Executive AA card is Citi/AA’s top of the line card. It doesn’t require excellent credit but it does come with a hefty $450 annual fee that is not waived for the first year. The card also usually comes with a 40,000-50,000 point sign-up bonus offer but that barely negates the annual fee. Citi’s newest offer though for this card comes with a $200 statement credit, Admirals Club Access for a year(you and a travel partner) and 100,000 points.

AAdmirals Club isn’t as great as it sounds but it is a nice benefit to have if you don’t have to pay for it. The $200 SC was a very nice touch since it reduced the AF to only $250. The kicker though was obviously the points.

Basically, this deal boils down to paying $250 for 100,000 points.  That is an awesome deal.

The Only Caveat

The only caveat though is that this offer requires you to spend $10,000 in 3 months. For most of us that’s way more than we’d ever spend in 3 months but that’s where manufactured spending comes in. This card probably isn’t the best one to try your hand at MS but if you’re already familiar with Amazon Payments and Vanilla Reloads, spending $10,000 should be no problem.

I knew I’d be able to hit the limit fairly easily through a combination of normal spend, honeymoon spend(6 hotel nights in Greece), Amazon Payments and Vanilla Reloads. It actually ended up only taking me 2 months to spend the $10,000 so it can definitely be done without going outside of your normal spending habits.

What Can 100,000 miles get me?

Off-Peak Awards

It’s cool to rack up a ton of miles but you also need to know how to use them. The best part about AA miles is that they have great availability during off-peak times and if you don’t mind paying double points you can book an AAnytime Award (any time as the name would imply). Last winter(right before peak season), I was able to book two roundtrip tickets from LAX to Kauai in economy for 30,000 points per passenger. That was a great deal since the same flight would have cost $500-$700 each.

It also helps if you have a flexible travel schedule.  If you don’t mind leaving on a weekday and coming back on a weekend or mid-week you’ll be able to find a lot more off-peak availability.

AAnytime Awards

If you have less flexibility when it comes to travel dates, you’ll likely have a lot of trouble redeeming points on most other airlines. But AA will at least give you the option to spend more points to get a flight during peak times. Since our honeymoon window this summer was very limited(due to my fiancee being in med school) we had to travel to Europe during the middle of July. This is the absolute peak season for European travel but I was still able to find tons of AAnytime availability on one way trips from LAX to JFK to Rome. As long as there is a seat available, you can use points to buy it with AA(albeit at double the points cost).

Normally, you can get a one way economy ticket from North America to Europe for 30,000 points off-peak. During peak times, you’ll have to pay double that(60,000) for a one way ticket. I was definitely more inclined to pay 60,000 points for a one way ticket though than pay the actual cost which would have been close to a thousand dollars on budget carriers. The other unique feature about buying an AAnytime award with AA is that they let you choose economy plus(you can’t do that with a regular off peak economy award). So at least I’ll be getting 6 extra inches of leg room! And every inch counts when you’re 6′ 3″ and your fiancee is 6′!

Here’s the link to the FlyerTalk thread that has the sign-up link and more information.  As of 3/13/14, the application link was still live and working but there’s no timetable on how long this deal would last.  My guess is it’s more likely to be months than weeks though.

Readers, what do you think about the latest 100,000 point offer from Citi/AA? $250 for 100,000 points is without a doubt a great deal but would you be able to spend $10,000 in 3 months without going outside of your normal spending habits?

-Harry @ PF Pro

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Citi vs Chase Checking Comparison – Who Wins? http://yourpfpro.com/citi-vs-chase-checking-comparison-who-wins/ http://yourpfpro.com/citi-vs-chase-checking-comparison-who-wins/#comments Mon, 26 Aug 2013 16:30:57 +0000 http://yourPFpro.com/?p=2738 Part 1: Citi vs Chase Checking: Review of Citibank Checking Part 2: Citi vs Chase Checking: Review of Chase Checking Part 3: Citi vs Chase Checking Comparison – Who Wins? This is the third and final article in my series comparing Citi and Chase Checking accounts. To recap: since I have my mortgage with Citi, […]

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Part 1: Citi vs Chase Checking: Review of Citibank Checking

Part 2: Citi vs Chase Checking: Review of Chase Checking

Part 3: Citi vs Chase Checking Comparison – Who Wins?

Citi vs Chase Checking Comparison - Who Wins?This is the third and final article in my series comparing Citi and Chase Checking accounts. To recap: since I have my mortgage with Citi, I was able to sign up for their mid-level Citibank Account Package and avoid fees. With Chase, I signed up for their lowest level Chase Total Checking and maintained a $1,500 balance to avoid fees. Since I use Ally as my primary banking source, I’m really only looking at Citi and Chase as a secondary banking option for whatever emergencies might come up.

Even the highest level gold and platinum checking accounts with Citi and Chase are worse than the basic account packages offered by Ally and ING. But I know a lot of people who still bank primarily with the big brick and mortar banks(I still don’t know why). The thing that sold me on Ally originally was the free ATM fees. With Ally/ING you pay absolutely no ATM fees on their side and the ATM’s side. I still have friends who let ATM’s determine their social schedule: “Let’s go to this bar because there’s a Chase ATM nearby.” Not me though, I can pull out money freely wherever and whenever, even those mysterious 2 am $15 ATM fees in Vegas are covered 😉

Product Comparison/Services – Winner: Chase

I was able to get Citi’s mid level checking package since I have my mortgage with them but there really aren’t a ton of benefits that come with it. Chase had a nice check ordering think a basic checking account with either bank is sufficient. But since most of my friends bank with Chase, it was very convenient to become part of their Quickpay service and start collecting debts instead of waiting until later and forgetting about them.

Chase also seems to have branches and ATM’s everywhere I go so they are definitely more convenient than Citi in my opinion.

Customer Service – Winner: Tie

I initially had some problems with Citi’s customer service via their secure message form but once I contacted them on Twitter, they were very quick and helpful in resolving my issues. Like I mentioned in my Chase review, I still don’t know why Chase initially closed my checking account and forced me to verify my ID at a branch. But nonetheless, the banker I worked with in branch was very helpful and knowledgeable. He helped me open my account and even followed up to make sure I got my bonus a few days later. Kudos to great customer service.

Sign-Up Bonus – Winner: Chase

Chase’s sign up bonus offers are a little harder to come by since there are no public offers but once you get them they are very valuable. I received $325 in cash just for opening a checking and savings account with Chase. With Citi, I got 20,000 points which is worth $200 in gift cards but only because I was able to sign up for their mid level account(due to my mortgage with them). If I would have signed up for Citi’s lowest level checking account, like I did with Chase I would have only received 10,000 points.

In addition the better sign-up bonus, Chase was much faster in posting the bonuses to your account than Citi. My Citi bonuses took almost four months to post from the date I opened the account, where as my Chase checking bonus took only a few days and my Chase savings account bonus took just under two weeks. The only bummer about Citi/Chase checking sign-up bonuses is that they are taxed! So that bonus is really going to be almost cut in half if you’re in one of the higher tax brackets. That’s one of the reasons why I prefer credit card sign up bonuses like the Barclay Arrival card($400).

Ongoing Bonuses/Benefits – Winner: Citi

Although Chase offers a superior sign up bonus, they don’t offer much after that. On the other hand, Citi will actually give you points every month just for banking with them. I’m currently getting 1,050 points a month from them without having to spend a dime. That’s very valuable to me since it’s passive income that could continue indefinitely.

My opinion might change though in a year when I try to sign up for the Chase checking/savings account again to see if I can get the bonuses again. I may be able to do the same thing with Citi but it’s not worth the risk or my time since I’m already getting 1,050 points a month with them.

Avoiding Fees – Winner: Tie

Avoiding fees with either bank is pretty easy. You can hold a $1,500 balance to avoid fees with either bank or with Chase you can avoid fees by having direct deposits totaling $500 or more. With Citi you’ll need 1 direct deposit and 1 bill payment per month. I choose to hold $1,500 in each since that way I don’t have to worry about direct deposits or bill payment. If you don’t have access to direct deposit, you can use the external transfer trick. If you’re not familiar with that trick, basically any external transfer from other banks like Paypal, ING, Ally, etc count as a direct deposit so you can just set up a monthly recurring transfer and send it right back if you want.

Best CD Rates

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Who’s The Best?

There’s no clear winner when it comes to brick and mortar banks since they’re all losers in my opinion, but If I had to pick one in this situation I’d probably go with Chase. The point of having a secondary bank is so that you can go into the branch if you have any immediate needs and Chase definitely wins there. I don’t think Citi has nearly as large of a branch presence as Chase but they are a close second. The sign-up bonuses with Chase are also far superior since you get $325 compared to 10,000 points for signing up for the basic checking account with each bank.

Personally, I plan on maintaining my account with Citi since I get 1,050 points a month and I’ll probably cancel my Chase account a few months before my one year anniversary and then try to sign up again and get the checking and savings bonus again.

Readers, what bank do you do your checking with? Do you think a brick and mortar bank is even necessary anymore?

-Harry @ PF Pro

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The Best Customer Service is Now on Twitter http://yourpfpro.com/the-best-customer-service-is-now-on-twitter/ http://yourpfpro.com/the-best-customer-service-is-now-on-twitter/#comments Fri, 16 Aug 2013 19:29:51 +0000 http://yourPFpro.com/?p=2507 Most kids dream about becoming a firefighter or an astronaut or maybe even a customer service representative when they’re young. Oh wait, that last one might be more of a nightmare. Let’s face it: a job as a CS rep isn’t exactly a high paying one and most of the reps I’ve talked to haven’t […]

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The Best Customer Service is Now on TwitterMost kids dream about becoming a firefighter or an astronaut or maybe even a customer service representative when they’re young. Oh wait, that last one might be more of a nightmare. Let’s face it: a job as a CS rep isn’t exactly a high paying one and most of the reps I’ve talked to haven’t been the brightest or even the nicest. You would think that stupid people would at least try and get by by being really nice, but maybe stupid people don’t know they’re stupid.

I’ll be honest, I call and e-mail customer service a lot. I don’t like paying fees and I don’t mind threatening to cancel accounts in order to get what I want. I’m kind of a baby like that, but I’ve been doing this for a while. I know exactly how to get transferred to the retention department or what to say to get fees reduced or new offers matched. I know that companies like Chase will retro-actively match credit card offers if a new one comes out and I know that other companies like United or Delta could give a crap if they screwed over your flight.

I treat every encounter with a CS rep like a chess match. Since I have a lot of experience, I usually end up winning but sometimes it isn’t easy. Even my favorite company(CS-wise), Amex, has been a pain to deal with once or twice. But, in the past few months, I’ve been noticing an industry-wide trend: companies are starting to bring back great customer service on social media.

Tweet Me!

I’ve made contact with several different companies via Twitter over the past few months and they were able to solve my problem in nearly every instance. I was shocked! Here’s the thing about social media: companies know that their online presence is affecting their business more and more these days. One bad publicity stunt can go viral quickly and turn thousands of people against a company in a heartbeat. Most big companies are starting to put some of their best and brightest on their social media task forces in order to avoid this.

Sometimes you don’t even have to tweet at the company, all you have to do is mention a company’s name and they’ll find you…creepy. Anyways, here are a couple experiences I’ve had lately via Twitter:

Citi

In this case, I signed up for a Citi checking account in order to get the 20k bonus points and I met all the requirements but still hadn’t received the points. I figured there was some type of waiting period but I just wanted to check. At first, I e-mailed their customer service address and the response I got was pretty funny. They told me that the promotion code I entered was not in their system even though I had a screenshot of the code saved on my hard drive. Nice try…

Anyways, I went to Twitter to vent my frustration(as seen below) and they actually called me that same day, found my account, and told me that I was on track to receive the 20k points by the end of August. The best part about speaking to their CS rep was that he actually seemed knowledgeable and basically told me that their other CS reps are idiots(I already knew that though).

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Amex

The one time I had a bad experience with Amex was when they offered me 5,000 points to sign up for an extended payment option on my Business Gold Card. The terms clearly stated that all I had to do was sign-up but when I called the CS rep a couple weeks after signing up, she told me I had to make a $100 purchase. I tweeted Amex and they looked into the situation for me and told me that if I didn’t receive the points 2 months after signing up, to tweet them back and I would be credited. Two months went by, and I never received the points so I tweeted them and that same afternoon, they granted me 5,000 points!

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So not every experience I’ve had Tweeting customer service went well but most of them have been surprising to say the least. I’ve gotten points credited, fees waived, rooms for free and more. I’ve gotten into the habit of instantly tweeting my negative experiences about companies and seeing if they’ll respond. So if you follow me on Twitter, that’s what all those annoying and complaining tweets are about.

Readers, have you ever turned to social media to vent your complaints? Have you noticed the overwhelming trend of better customer service via social media over more traditional methods?

-Harry @ PF Pro

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Is a Bi-Weekly Mortgage Payment a Good Idea? http://yourpfpro.com/is-a-bi-weekly-mortgage-payment-a-good-idea/ http://yourpfpro.com/is-a-bi-weekly-mortgage-payment-a-good-idea/#comments Fri, 02 Nov 2012 05:31:35 +0000 http://yourPFpro.com/?p=1368 “What if we told you that you could be mortgage free years sooner? That’s what The BiWeekly Advantage Plan® offers homeowners like you!” That was the opening line of an e-mail I received last week from Citi Mortgage.  I’d heard of a bi-weekly payment plan before but never been offered one by my mortgage provider. […]

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Bi-weekly_mortgage_payment_citi“What if we told you that you could be mortgage free years sooner? That’s what The BiWeekly Advantage Plan® offers homeowners like you!”

That was the opening line of an e-mail I received last week from Citi Mortgage.  I’d heard of a bi-weekly payment plan before but never been offered one by my mortgage provider.  This type of payment plan essentially drafts half your mortgage payment every 14 days giving you 26 payments a year, or 13 full payments per year instead of 12.

With a typical mortgage, you only have one payment a month and you’ll make the same payment every month for 30 years.  If you were to follow this schedule, you would pay a ton of interest since the loan is amortized over 30 years.  But since the average length of home ownership is only around seven years, most people never make it that far.

A Good Deal?

A bi-weekly mortgage will always have the same payments like a traditional plan, but the length of your loan will be reduced and you’ll pay less in interest.  Sounds like a pretty good deal, doesn’t it?  With this specific plan, the one caveat is: “a $3.00 transaction fee is collected with each draft.”  $3 per draft is a lot of money so let’s see if this is still a good idea.

Since I just refinanced, let’s take a look at my 7/1 adjustable rate mortgage of $220,000 at 3.125%.  For simplicity, we’ll assume it’s fixed for 30 years(even though I’m a big fan of ARM’s!) with a start date of Nov. 2, 2012.  Using bankrate’s bi-weekly mortgage calculator, we can see how my payments would break down:

Bankrate_bi-weekly_mortgage_calculationSwitching to bi-weekly payments would save me $17,000 in interest and I would pay off the loan four years sooner.  I think the former is the more important of the two numbers though.  In both cases, my principal paid will be the same amount but I can reduce the length of the loan by four years with a bi-weekly payment plan.

In order to realize the $17,000 in interest savings though, you’d have to pay off the entire balance of your loan over 26 years.  Your savings would be much less if you moved after 5 or 10 years and paid off your loan.

How Much Does $3 Really Cost You?

I was pretty surprised to get an e-mail from Citi telling me how I could lower my total interest.  It seemed a bit ironic that they were telling me how to pay them less, but alas, there was the hidden fee(not very hidden at all if you ask me).

The e-mail stated that there would be 26 drafts a year, and with each draft, a $3 transaction fee would be collected.  Over the life of a bi-weekly payment plan, I would have to make 26 years and 9 weeks of payments or a total of 681 payments to pay off the loan.  At $3 a pop, that’s $2,043 in fees over the life of the loan, WOW!  My $17,000 savings is now $15,000 because of all these damn fees.

Do It Yourself!

I’m a big do it yourself-er(just check out my identity theft plan) and in this case you can easily set up a bi-weekly payment plan yourself that will allow you to save over $2,000 in fees.  The first method involves adding principal to your payment every month.  You can use almost any mortgage calculator to figure out what your interest savings will be over the life of your loan and then decide how much you want to add.

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If you want to mimic a bi-weekly payment plan, all you need to do is take your monthly payment amount and divide it by 12. Add this much of principal to each monthly payment and your results will be nearly identical to a bi-weekly payment plan.  Talk with your mortgage service provider though and make sure they are aware that your extra payments are going towards principal.  You should be able to designate this with them, otherwise they might mistakenly apply it to your next month’s mortgage payment.

Better Than a Bi-Weekly Plan

My preferred option though is to just add one lump sum payment at the end of every year.  All you need to do is send in an extra month’s payment(designated to principal) and this will produce almost identical results to paying bi-weekly with less hassle.

I don’t plan on owning my condo for more than 5-10 years so a bi-weekly payment plan doesn’t interest me that much; I’d rather save up for my next real estate purchase.  But these types of plans can save some people a lot of money, just make sure you do it yourself.  That way you’ll save thousands in interest and fees.

Readers, do you make extra principal payments or have you enrolled in a bi-weekly payment plan?  Is it common for a mortgage provider to charge $3 in fees every payment?!

-Harry @ PF Pro

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