Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Review – $150 Bonus + Up to 10% Cash Back!

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is known as one of the highest paying cash back cards available. It offers up to 6% cash back and a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months AND for a limited time, earn 10% cash back on purchases at restaurants for the first six months! (Up to $200 cash back)

Blue Cash Preferred ReviewAmerican Express is perhaps best known for its travel rewards–“Don’t leave home without it.” But with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, it also offers a top notch cash rewards cards. The card has a tiered reward system ranging from one to six percent. It also has a cash bonus for new card members and a 0% introductory APR offer.

Learn more about this and other cash back credit cards and apply online at CardRatings.com.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Snapshot

  • Limited Time Offer: Apply by 5/3/17 – Earn 10% cash back on purchases at U.S. Restaurants in the first 6 months, up to $200 back.
  • Plus, earn $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • Earn Cash Back: 6% U.S. supermarkets up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 3% U.S. gas stations & select U.S. dept stores, 1% other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • With the Blue Cash Preferred® Card, you can start earning cash back. No rotating reward categories. No enrollment required.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit. Cash back is earned only on eligible purchases.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months, then a variable rate, currently 13.74% to 22.74%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors.
  • Terms and limitations apply.
  • See Rates & Fees

Cash Back Rewards Program

There are four components of the rewards program: (1) the $150 bonus; (2) 6% cash back;  (3) 3% cash back; and (4) 1% cash back.

  1. $150 Bonus: Spend just $1,000 on the card in the first 3 months and you’ll pocket a $150 cash bonus in the form of a statement credit.
  2. 6% Cash Back: For rewards, you earn 6% U.S. supermarkets up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). This is one of the highest cash back rewards available from any card.
  3. 3% Cash Back: You’ll earn 3% at U.S gas stations.
  4. 1% Cash Back: On all other purchases.

Now it’s not all good news when it comes to the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express.  There is a $95 annual fee that is NOT waived for the first year.  This means the initial $150 cash back bonus is cut by the annual fee; but when you take into account the high % cash back savings in a variety of categories, big spenders will love this card long-term.

For example, I used this card exclusively at the pump and at the grocery store.  I am the father in a family of four (only three eating solid food at the moment) and our grocery bill is a solid $450 every month.  My wife and I work from home, and with little children rarely eat out (once or twice a month if that) so nearly all of our meals occur within these four walls.  Spending $5,500 a year on groceries, we save $330 a year just on this one expenditure line.

Had we been using a very good 2% cash back credit card, that savings would only be $110, meaning were $220 to the positive.  Tack on the savings from 3% gas purchases, the initial $150 bonus and the perks that American Express can provide; the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is an easy addition to our wallets.

Learn more about this and other cash back credit cards and apply online at CardRatings.com.


Discover it® Miles Review – Unlimited 1.5x Miles w/ BIG Bonus

Discover it<sup>®</sup> MilesThe Discover it® Miles credit card offers a miles based rewards program that gives you double all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. It sports no annual fee and unlimited 1.5X miles on every dollar you spend. Need Wi-Fi on the plane but don’t want to pay a crazy amount in fees? Discover has got you covered. It will pay you back for your in-flight Wi-Fi fees up to $30 a year with an automatic statement credit. Now you can also redeem miles in any amount toward travel purchases on your statement or even get cash as a direct deposit to your bank account with every 100 miles.

Discover it® Miles Snapshot

  • Unlimited 1.5x rewards on every purchase, every day. For every $1 you spend, you earn 1.5x Miles.
  • Get a mile-for-mile match of all the rewards you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Redeem your rewards in any amount for cash or a travel credit. You’ll always get $1 for every 100 Miles you’ve earned.
  • Get your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements, on mobile and online.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service. Talk to a real person any time.
  • No Annual Fee.

Rewards Program

The Discover it® Miles card offers a simple and lucrative rewards program. With the card you earn unlimited 1.5X miles on every dollar spent on purchases. You can redeem miles for a statement credit toward travel purchases. Travel Purchases include airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, travel agents, online travel sites and commuter transportation.

Alternatively, you can have the rewards transferred to your bank account. Every 100 miles equals $1 in value. Discover Match® is also currently offering double the miles you’ve earned at the end of the first year of your account being opened.

0% Introductory Rate

The card offers a 0% introductory rate on purchases for a period of 14 months. The intro balance transfer APR is 10.99% for 14 months

Other Perks

The Discover it® Miles card offers several additional benefits:

  • No Blackout dates, any airline, any time: Redeem Miles in any amount to credit travel purchases from your statement, or get cash at any time
  • Freeze It on/off switch for your account.: Misplaced your card? Now if you lose your card, you can Freeze ItSM to prevent new purchases, cash advances or balance transfers on your account. Freeze or unfreeze in seconds with our mobile app or website
  • Service and security built around you: Discovers 100% U.S. live service is available any time you call. Or rely on powerful, fast mobile and online service. Discover ships replacement cards overnight for free to any U.S. street address at your request—even on vacation. And Discover will never hold you responsible for unauthorized purchases on your Discover card.
  • Track your recent FICO® Credit Scores for free: Stay on top of your credit and avoid surprises. Now you can see your recent FICO® Credit Scores in one easy-to-read chart on monthly statements and online. Plus see the key factors online from your credit history that affect your score the most.

More information on the Discover it® Miles


Barclaycard Ring™ MasterCard® Review – No Balance Transfer Fee

barclay ringThe very first balance transfer I made was while I was a student at the University of Miami.  Initially, I had signed up for a terrific student credit card (with a 29.99% interest rate) because someone was handing out a free duffel bag to everyone that signed up for the Capital One student card.  Have you ever heard of anything so awesome?  Ugh.

Anyway, after racking up around $2,000 in credit card debt, I soon realized that my work study student job could only cover part of the balance. I’d be on the hook for the rest, in addition to paying an additional 30% in interest.  For the mathematics major I was, that just didn’t work so I also applied for a Citi Platinum Select Mastercard so I could transfer the balance and save some money.  The details of the transfer weren’t great; 3% fee and 12 months at 0% interest, but it allowed me a chance to pay down my debt to zero, so for that I’m grateful.

Crushing that old balance transfer offer is the Barclaycard Ring™ MasterCard®.  Rarely is an offer so lucrative, this card offers a 0% intro APR for 15 months on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening with NO BALANCE TRANSFER FEE.  No annual fees or foreign transaction fees to speak of either.  So for anyone in need of a balance transfer, this card is a great way to pay down debt without adding a single penny to your balance.  The interest rate after the 0% intro rate expires is a very low 13.74% variable.

To give you an idea of just how much money can be saved by owning the Barclaycard Ring™ MasterCard®, let’s assume a $15,000 balance in need of a transfer from another card that has a 19.99% APR.  Making $1,000 per month payments, you’ll have the full $1,5000 balance paid off if you utilize the 15 month 0% APR option w/ no balance transfer fee.  However, on your old credit card, making the $1,000 per month payments, you’ll end up paying $2,387 in interest! (and it will take 18 months to pay the balance down to zero).  There aren’t many credit cards on the market today that can offer up a savings this high, and consider the larger the balance transferred, the higher the possible savings.

Barclaycard Ring™ MasterCard® Perks

A full review of perks on the Barclaycard Ring™ MasterCard® can be found below:

  • 0% Introductory APR for the first 15 months on purchases. Plus, you’ll get a 0% introductory APR for 15 months on Balance Transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, 13.74%
  • No balance transfer fees
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Chip technology, so paying for your purchases is more secure at chip-card terminals in the U.S. and abroad
  • Free online access to FICO® Credit Score

The Barclaycard Ring™ MasterCard® is one of the best balance transfer cards on the market today and one of only two balance transfer credit cards that can provide no balance transfer fee.  Sure, you can find a few more months of 0% interest elsewhere but when you combine 15 months of 0% APR, no balance transfer fee and a free FICO credit score, I can honestly say you won’t find a better overall option.


Hilton HHonors Card from American Express Review – 80,000 Bonus Points

Hilton HHonors Amex ReviewUpdate – For a limited time (Expires 5/31) the Hilton HHonors Card from American Express will offer 80,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 in purchases during the first three months of card ownership!

Hilton HHonors Card from American Express is designed to benefit those who enjoy staying at Hilton Hotels. The card offers a rewards program that allows you to earn points on all purchases and extra points for Hilton purchases. You will get a low introductory rate on purchases and there is no annual fee with this card.  In this review we’ll look at the rewards program, including the value of HHonors points and what hotels you can use them. We’ll also cover the fees and rates, and compare this card to other Hilton credit cards.

Learn more about this and other travel reward credit cards and apply online at CardRatings.com.

Rewards Program

The rewards program with this card combines bonus HHonors points with points earned on purchases with the card. It also provides a quicker way to achieve VIP status. Let’s look at each.

Hilton HHonors Bonus Points

With the Hilton HHonors™ Card from American Express you can earn 80,000 Hilton HHonors™ bonus points. To qualify, you must spend $2,000 in purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership. This of course raises an important question. How much are these points worth?

We’ll look at that in more detail below. For now, keep in mind that free rooms begin at 5,000 points for a Category 1 hotel. They go up to 70,000 to 95,000 points for one night at a Category 10 property.  Here’s the awards chart from Hilton:

Hilton HHonors Awards Chart

Purchase Rewards

You also earn HHonors points for using the card. The amount of points depends on the purchase:

  • Get 7X Hilton HHonors™ Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
  • Get 5X Hilton HHonors™ Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets, and at U.S. gas stations.
  • Earn 3X Hilton HHonors™ Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.

At first glance this point structure looks phenomenal. Not so fast. The travel hackers among us value an HHonors point at 0.4 cents each (Source). I wouldn’t read too much into this valuation. Remember that the number of points needed for a stay depends on the hotel. But it’s a good rule of thumb.

Learn more about this and other travel reward credit cards and apply online at CardRatings.com.

Hilton HHonors™ VIP Status

The HHonors Silver VIP status is yours, complimentary, for the life of your travel rewards Card. You can receive a 15% bonus credit on all HHonors Base points earned, as well as other benefits when you stay at Hilton Family hotels. You will enjoy an automatic upgrade to HHonors Gold VIP status when your total eligible spend reaches $20,000 in the calendar year. With Gold VIP status you get :

  • A 25% bonus credit on all HHonors Base points earned
  • Access to the Executive Floor lounge
  • Upgraded accommodations when available

Interest Rates

APR on purchases will be a variable rate, currently 15.49% to 19.49%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors. Please note that interest rates can and do change frequently.

Additional Hilton HHonors™ Card from American Express Benefits

  • American Express Online Travel: Find competitive, low prices on air, hotel, and car rental reservations, vacation packages, cruises, and last-minute deals, too.
  • Emergency Check-In: Check into a hotel and charge your stay with the Card, even if your Card has been lost or stolen.
  • Assured Reservations: Guarantee your hotel reservations with your Card and your room will be waiting for you even if you arrive late, or the hotel will provide you with a comparable room nearby, along with transportation to your new location.
  • Travel Accident Insurance: Provides up to $100,000 in accidental death and dismemberment insurance while traveling.
  • Emergency Card Replacement: Receive a new Card if yours has been lost or stolen in as little as 24 hours.
  • Global Assist® Hotline: Whenever you travel more than 100 miles from home, we’ll provide you with emergency assistance 24/7, including medical and legal referrals, visa/passport help, cash access, lost luggage and more.
  • Extended Warranty: When you pay for a covered item entirely with your Card, Extended Warranty extends the terms of the original manufacturer’s warranty for a period of time equal to the duration of the original manufacturer’s warranty, up to one additional year. Coverage is limited to the actual amount charged to your Credit Card for the item or $10,000, whichever is less, not to exceed $50,000 per Cardmember account per policy year.
  • Purchase Protection:Purchase Protection provides you with added peace of mind when you use your Card for eligible purchases. Items are protected against theft and accidental damage for up to 90 days from the date of purchase — at no additional charge. Coverage is good for up to $1,000 per Occurrence, and up to $50,000 per Cardmember per account, per year.
  • Exciting Offers: From vacation packages to nights out on the town, explore exclusive offers that can help you save while earning bonus miles. Offers are updated frequently, so keep checking in.

What we like

Clearly the best feature are the HHonors points. My wife and I travel enough that the card generates several free stays each year. And that’s more than enough to justify the annual fee. It’s also nice to get the boost to Silver status.

What could be better

The interest rates and lack of an introductory rate are a “negative.” That being said, we pay the card off in full each month, so the interest rate is irrelevant. And if we were looking for a 0% balance transfer or 0% on purchases, we’d look to a different card anyway.

Summary

  • Get 80,000 Hilton HHonors™ Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 7X Hilton HHonors™ Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
  • Get 5X Hilton HHonors™ Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets, and at U.S. gas stations.
  • Enjoy complimentary Silver status with your Hilton HHonors™ Card.
  • Spend $20,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year and you can earn HHonors Gold status through the end of the next calendar year.
  • Terms and limitations apply.
  • Regular Purchase APR: 15.99%-19.99% (Variable)
  • Penalty APR: 29.99%
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Late Payment Fee: Up to $37
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: 2.7% of each transaction after conversion to US dollars
  • Ideal for those who frequently stay in Hilton Hotel properties
  • Excellent bonus rewards for those looking for HHonors points
  • Well suited for those wanting a rewards card with no annual fee
  • Requires excellent credit

Learn more about this and other travel reward credit cards and apply online at CardRatings.com.

Compare

There are several Hilton credit cards available. In addition to this American Express offer, Citibank offers two Hilton HHonors rewards cards. Here is a quick comparison of the three Hilton credit cards:

Hilton HHonors™ Card from American Express Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
Bonus Points 80,000 40,000 2 weekend
night certificates
Earning Rewards Up to 7x/$1 Up to 6x/$1 Up to 10x/$1
Annual Fee $0 $0 $95

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express – 25,000 Bonus Starpoints Review

The Starwood Preferred Guest program, or SPG for short, is one of the most rewarding travel programs available. From free stays at 5-star hotels to free air travel on almost any airline with no black out dates, Starwood Preferred has become synonymous with first class travel. And with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, it’s easy to earn Starpoints quickly.

Starwood Preferred American Express

This card offers one of the fastest ways to build up Starpoints. From the 25,000 Starpoints bonus to earning Starpoints with each purchase, it’s an ideal card for those who frequently stay in Starwood properties. Starpoints are also considered by many to be the most valuable points, in part because they can be transferred to airline miles programs on a 1 to 1 basis.

Learn more about this and other travel reward credit cards and apply online at CardRatings.com.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express Snapshot

  • Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases spent on the Card at participating SPG® & Marriott Rewards® hotels. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other purchases.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on International purchases.
  • Redeem Starpoints® at over 1,300 participating hotels and resorts in over 100 countries and for flights on more than 150 airlines with SPG flights, all with no blackout dates.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms and apply.

Rewards Program

There are three components of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express rewards program: (1) the 25,000 bonus Starpoints; (2) 5 Starpoints on select purchases; and (3) 1 Starpoint on everyday purchases.

  1. 25,000 Bonus Starpoints: Get 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  2. 5 Starpoints: Earn up to 5 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating SPG hotels – that’s 2 Starpoints for which you may be eligible as a Card Member in addition to the 2 or 3 Starpoints for which you may be eligible as an SPG member
  3. 1 Starpoint: Earn 1 Starpoint® for all other purchases.

Other Perks

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express offers several additional benefits:

  • Starwood Elite Status:As a Card Member, receive credit for 5 nights and 2 stays each year toward SPG Elite status. That’s just 20 nights away for SPG Gold status and 45 nights away for SPG Platinum status in a calendar year.
  • Free In-Room Premium Internet:Receive free in-room, premium Internet access while staying with SPG Participating Hotels.
  • Stay Connected: Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees: Use your Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express globally without incurring foreign transaction fees.
  • Turn Starpoints into Airline Miles: Redeem Starpoints for free flights on over 150 airlines with SPG Flights with no blackout dates. Transfer Starpoints to nearly 30 airline frequent flyer programs, mostly on a one-to-one basis.Receive a 5,000 Starpoint bonus when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to a participating frequent flyer program.

What we like about the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

  • 25,000 Bonus Starpoints
  • Up to 5 Starpoints on select purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Transfer of Starpoints to airline miles

What could be better

Learn more about this and other travel reward credit cards and apply online at CardRatings.com.


A Review of Consumer Reports’ Tool For Calculating Credit Card Rewards

Choosing the right rewards credit card is no easy task. First, you have to determine how much you spend each month, categorize your spending, and then sift through all the information out there to find the card that will give you the most bang for your buck. Fortunately, Consumer Reports has come up with a solution to this problem. Its Credit Card Adviser Comparison Tool uses your monthly spending habits to match you with the best rewards credit card — one that will give you the most cash back.

The main feature of Consumer Reports’ Credit Card Adviser Tool is the ability to customize your recommendations based on your monthly spending. The tool lets you break down your spending into five categories: Gas, Groceries, Restaurants, Travel, and Everything Else. The tool then calculates how much cash back you earn over the first year and the first three years, utilizing the categories from over 50 different rewards cards.

Let’s take a look at the top credit card recommendations based on three different budgets.

Budget 1: Carless and a Low Spender

cr1

The first example is actually based on my budget. I don’t own a car and have minimal expenses aside from monthly bills and occasional eating out or travel. With this low monthly spending, it can be difficult to get a lot of cash back from a credit card. This is why I’m always looking for creative ways to maximize my cash back rewards.

In addition to finding ways to get more cash back rewards with your current spending, having the best credit card for your spending habits is half the battle. The Consumer Reports’ Credit Card Adviser Comparison Tool recommends these three top credit cards for someone with my monthly expenditures:

MasterCard – Titanium Card

  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • $500 sign up bonus when you spend $1,000 in the first three months
  • $195 annual fee

American Express Blue Cash Preferred

  • 1% cash back on all purchases; 3% cash back on gas; 6% cash back for first $6,000 spent on groceries and then 1% on grocery purchases
  • $150 sign up bonus when you spend $1,000 in the first three months
  • $75 annual fee
  • Read more about this card here

Chase Freedom

  • 1% cash back on all purchases; rotating quarterly cash back rewards
  • $150 sign up bonus when you spend $500 in the first three months
  • No annual fee
  • Read more about this card here

Budget 2: Frequent Driver and Diner

cr2

The average American spends about $2,000 per year, or $167 per month, on car fuel and on average $150 to $175 per month on dining out. Let’s say you drive and eat out a little more often than the average person, spending about $400 per month in each category. Here are the top three credit cards that Consumer Reports’ tool would recommend for you:

MasterCard – Titanium Card

  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • $500 sign up bonus when you spend $1,000 in the first three months
  • $195 annual fee

PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards Plus Visa

Budget 3: Frequent Traveler

cr3

Those who travel often are in luck when it comes to credit card rewards. There are plenty of programs that reward frequently travelers. Let’s say you’re someone whose expenses are pretty typical outside of travel. When it comes to travel, assume you spend about $1,000 per month between flights, hotels, and other travel-related items. Here are the top three credit cards the Adviser Comparison Tool would recommend for you:

Chase Sapphire Preferred

  • 1% cash back on all purchases; 2% cash back on travel; 2% cash back at restaurants
  • $500 sign up bonus when you spend $4,000 in the first three months
  • $95 annual fee, waived in the first year
  • Read more about this card here

Discover It Miles

MasterCard – Titanium Card

  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • $500 sign up bonus when you spend $1,000 in the first three months
  • $195 annual fee

Pros

The main advantage of this tool is the ease of use, and the website is very user-friendly. All you have to do is input numbers and watch the tool go to work, churning out calculations for how much cash back you would earn in one year and in three years. As you change the values, the list of recommended credit cards will update in real time.

Another advantage of the tool is the fact that you can use it as a forecasting mechanism. For example, if you are planning on traveling more in the upcoming year, you can browse the recommended credit cards to see which ones would offer the most rewards. You can sort the recommended credit cards in alphabetical order as well and use the tool just to browse the offers that are out there.

Cons

The main disadvantage of this tool is the calculation limitation. Currently, the tool only shows cash back rewards. For credit cards that offer rewards in the form of miles or points, the tool converts those miles and points into a cash equivalent. Since the value of miles and points can vary so much, not being able to view the actual rewards is a disadvantage. The tool’s cash equivalent may not necessarily be the exact value you would get.

Another disadvantage of the tool is that the database of credit cards compared is not fully inclusive. For example, a few credit cards not currently listed in the tool include: Chase Freedom Unlimited, Capital One Venture Rewards, and Discover It® Cashback Match. Not having these key credit cards in the tool means that you could be missing out on an opportunity to get a card that offers you maximum rewards.

Wrapping Up

The concept of the Consumer Reports’ Credit Card Adviser Comparison Tool is one that is much needed in the personal finance world today. It isn’t perfect and could use some tweaking before I give it my full recommendation, though.

The good thing about this tool is how easy it is to predict the rewards you would receive based on your monthly spending. However, the fact that miles and points rewards are converted to cash equivalents leaves the end user with a lot more to consider. Will you redeem all of the points or miles in a given year to realize the cash equivalent? Are you better off getting a strictly cash back card to earn more money?

The Consumer Reports’ Credit Card Adviser Comparison Tool is a step in the right direction. I imagine that over time, it will become more robust and cater to the end users’ needs even more.

What do you think of this tool? Would you use it?


How to Snag a Southwest Companion Pass Without Taking 100 Flights

For many frequent travelers, the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass is the holy grail. It allows you to choose a person to fly with you anywhere, for free. You read that right: your partner, sibling, friend, or family member can tag along everywhere you fly, gratis.

Earning the Companion Pass is a real challenge, however. You’ll have to either earn 110,000 qualifying miles or fly 100 qualifying one-way flights, all with Southwest and all in a single calendar year. The Companion Pass is then good for the remainder of that year as well as the following calendar year. In theory, when timed properly, this could give you a full two years of free flights for another fellow flier.

If you’re interested in how to obtain a Companion Pass, read on. Plan carefully, however, as you’ll want to time things to start as early as possible in the new year. It’s much less valuable to earn one over the next couple of months (and only get to enjoy it through the remainder of 2016)!

Earning the Companion Pass

Accruing 110,000 miles (also known as “points,” in some parlances) or 100 one-way flights in a single year seems impossible to all but the most frequent of travelers. Those are quantities that only seem accessible to those who fly very often (for work, perhaps), and have some control over the airlines with whom they fly.

Let’s focus here on the miles. The easiest way to earn Southwest miles is through credit card bonuses. Chase offers three different Southwest credit cards: the Premier, the Plus, and the Premier Business.

Read More About these cards here.

Currently, the Premier and Plus cards offer a bonus of 40,000 miles with a $1,000 minimum spend, but referral links  on the Internet can get you the larger 50,000 mile bonus. The Premier Business also carries a 50,000 mile bonus. You can find local advertising in airports for these credit cards with the 50,000 mile bonus.

If you’re applying for these cards, it’s important to understand that they all fall under Chase’s 5/24 rule. This means that if you’ve applied for 5 or more lines of credit (all types of credit, not just with Chase) in the past 24 months, you’ll be denied for any of these cards.

If you’re just getting started with travel hacking, I would strongly recommend you instead prioritize the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve before looking into the Chase Southwest cards. The Companion Pass is an amazing deal, but the flexibility and large signup bonuses with the Sapphire cards are significantly more valuable to most travelers.

Learn All About the Chase Sapphire Preferred card here.

By applying for and earning the bonus on the Southwest Premier and Plus cards, you’ll have spent $168 in fees and $4,000 in meeting the minimum spends. But, you will have earned at least 104,000 Southwest qualifying miles. You’ll need to earn the next 6,000 miles by making purchases on the cards, taking flights or renting cars, or by transferring from hotel programs.

Hyatt hotel points are a popular option for this, but it transfers at a 2.5:1 ratio. So, you’d need 15,000 Hyatt points to convert to 6,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards miles. Another popular option is using Marriott’s Flight + Hotel booking awards. If you’re points-rich with Marriott, you may be able to earn significant amounts of Rapid Rewards miles.

Finally, keep in mind that the 110,000 miles you earn for the Companion Pass don’t go away — that is, you’re not losing your 110,000 miles by getting the Companion Pass. You can use all of those miles to book flights and then tack on free second flights!

Using Your Companion Pass

Traveling with your Companion Pass is fairly straightforward. The pass has no blackout dates or seat restrictions, so you can book flight any time, in any class, and earn a free second seat for your companion.

To book your companion’s flight, first purchase and book your flight using cash or miles through Southwest, just as you would normally. Then, book a second flight for your companion, again through Southwest, but this time by selecting the “Rapid Rewards Companion Pass” booking option. You can do this easily online, or by calling in to Southwest’s toll-free reservations number.

Both your ticket and your companion’s must be on the same flight on the same date and time. If you end up cancelling your flight, your companion’s flight will also be cancelled. If you’d like to change your flight, you’ll also have to change your second ticket. You also have to show up and check in for the flight together, so make sure to bring the physical Companion Pass and, of course, valid forms of identification.

Changing Your Companion

If you have a Southwest Companion Pass, you should know that you can actually change your designated companion, up to three times each calendar year! Since there’s a limit on the number of times you can change it, it might be good to structure these changes around beginning- or end-of-year vacations. So, for example: start the year off by taking a trip with a sibling or relative somewhere. Then swap your companion to your partner, and enjoy free flights throughout the year. Finally, towards the end of the year, change your companion to another relative or friend, and take another trip.

Keep in mind that changing your designated companion can take up to 21 business days on the Southwest side — so plan carefully!

For New Travel Hackers Only

Unfortunately, due to Chase’s 5/24 restrictions, the Southwest Companion Pass is going to be difficult to earn for veteran travel hackers. People who are new to the scene should strongly consider it as a second priority, after the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Preferred credit cards. When timed correctly, though, the Companion Pass can save you thousands of dollars over the course of two years!


Review of the New USAA Visa and Its Benefits

After first announcing the change almost a year ago, USAA has switched from MasterCard to Visa as its credit card processor. The United Services Automobile Association serves military members and their families, who comprise a large bulk of our population. It’s also one of the largest issuers of debit and credit cards in the United States. So, as you can imagine, this is a big blow to MasterCard.

This change is, of course, good news for Visa. Visa currently holds the majority of market share in the credit card industry — about 50%. Acquiring USAA as a client only puts Visa further ahead.

For USAA credit card holders, this should be good news as well.

What’s Changing

The switch will bring Visa’s state-of-the-art capabilities to USAA credit card holders. For one, Visa is the world’s largest electronic payment network. It’s widely accepted by merchants and ATMs around the world. So, you’ll have no problem using your card across the country and abroad.

Another big feature is the elimination of foreign transaction fees. When you travel abroad, not only will your card be accepted by most merchants, but you’ll also enjoy not having to pay an extra fee on your purchases.

Your card number will change, so that is one downside. A few minutes out of your day to update your billing accounts with the new information is all you need, though.

If you travel abroad frequently, this change will definitely benefit you. Overall, the switch should be a good one for most USAA credit card holders.

What’s Staying The Same

Despite these changes, some things will remain the same:

  • Your PIN will not change during the conversion from MasterCard to Visa.
  • Your rewards points and cash back earned on your MasterCard will roll over to the Visa card. The rewards program is also staying the same.
  • You’ll keep the same terms of your account, including things like interest rate and credit limit.
  • Your account history will remain on your credit report and your credit score will not be affected.

It’s clear that USAA really thought this transition through. They obviously worked hard to make sure the switch was executed properly, with little impact to credit card holders.

Benefits

Let’s take a look at all the USAA Visa credit cards and their benefits:

Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card

  • Up to 1.25% cash back on everyday purchases
  • No limit on cash back earnings
  • Redeem cash rewards anytime
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee

Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card

  • Up to 1.5% cash back on everyday purchases
  • No limit on cash back earnings
  • Redeem cash rewards anytime
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee

USAA Rewards Visa Signature® Card

  • One point for every dollar spent on everyday purchases
  • 2,500 bonus points with first purchase
  • No limit on points earnings
  • No expiration date for points
  • Redeem points for cash, gift cards, travel, or donations to a military affiliate group
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee

USAA Rate Advantage Visa Platinum® Card

  • Lowest interest rate card
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No over-the-limit fee
  • No annual fee

USAA Classic Visa Platinum® Card

  • Periodic consideration for automatic upgrade to a premium credit card
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $35 annual fee

USAA Secured Card Visa Platinum® Card

  • Determine your own credit limit, up to $5,000, with an interest-earning CD
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $35 annual fee

On USAA’s website, the credit cards have an average review rating of 3.9 out of 5 stars. USAA also has a tool on its website for you to answer a few questions in order to get a credit card recommendation.

Wrapping Up

All in all, USAA’s switch of credit card processors from MasterCard to Visa is a good move for all involved — except for MasterCard, of course. As the nation’s largest credit card processor, Visa continues to dominate the market with their share of half the market.

Credit card holders will enjoy multiple benefits that make this card good for use while traveling abroad. First, there is no foreign transaction fee for all Visa cards. Second, Visa is widely accepted at merchants across the world. So, you’ll have no problem using your card at home or abroad.

With six different Visa cards to choose from, USAA appeals to a wide range of people within the population of military members and their families.


Chase Freedom Unlimited Visa Review

Chase has recently begun offering a new card, the Freedom Unlimited Visa. It comes complete with generous cash back rewards, a 0% introductory rate, a bonus of up to $150, and a host of other features and benefits. It competes well for an everyday spending card. Let’s walk through the details in this review.

Unlimited Rewards

You earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase with this card, with no limits on the rewards. Redeeming your cash back rewards is easy: cash them in at any time and in any amount. Your rewards also don’t expire, as long as your account is open and in good standing.

Each $1 in rewards is equal to 100 points, which comes out to $.01 per point. Points can be earned anytime you or an authorized user of your card make a purchase of either products or services. You also don’t have to worry about signing up for quarterly categories (as with the standard Chase Freedom card).

Certain transactions will not apply towards rewards. These include balance transfers, cash advances, traveler’s checks, money orders, casino gambling, or other betting transactions.

Bonus Offer

Chase is currently offering a bonus of up to $150 after you spent $500 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account. The bonus offer is available only if you are a new Chase Freedom Unlimited cardholder. You will receive 15,000 bonus which can be redeemed for $150 cash back. The bonus points will post to your account after 6 to 8 weeks.

You can also qualify for an additional $25 bonus by adding your first authorized user. (They also need to make a first purchase within three months.) You will receive 2,500 bonus points which can be redeemed for $25 cash back. Once again, the bonus points will post your account after 6 to 8 weeks.

cashforwardLooking for a card with a better cashback platform?  A great alternative to the Chase Freedom Unlimited is the Barclaycard CashForward™ World MasterCard®.  It offers a flat 1.575% cash back on all purchases as well as a $200 up front bonus after spending $1,000 in the first three months of card ownership and no annual fee.

Card Features

The Chase Freedom Unlimited Card is offered with no annual membership fee, as well as a host of other features.

The card includes Zero Liability Protection. This means that you won’t be held responsible for any unauthorized charges on your card, or the use of your account information. You can also feel more secure with Chip-Enabled Security, for additional protection of your account.

One of my favorite features is Purchase Protection. This means that any purchases made with the card are protected for 120 days from damage or theft. (Note that there is a maximum of $500 per claim, and $50,000 per account.)

You’ll also enjoy Price Protection coverage with the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Say you make a purchase and later on find a lower price advertised either online or in print (within 90 days, for US purchases only). Chase will reimburse you for up to $500 per item ($2,500 per year).

Lastly, you also get a complimentary Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver. This feature enables you to decline the optional collision insurance when you charge your car rental on your card.

Rates and Fees

The Chase Freedom Unlimited Card is offered with no annual membership fee, and no minimum interest charge.

You will pay a fee of $5 or 5% — whichever is greater — of the amount moved on balance transfers. Cash advances will come with a $10 or 5% fee; again, whichever is greater. Foreign transactions will have a fee of 3% applied to the amount of the transaction, in US dollars.

If you’re late making a payment, there is a tiered fee structure. If your account holds a balance of less than $100, your late fee will be up to $15. If your balance is between $100 and $250, the fee will be up to $100. And if your balance is over $250, the fee will be up to $37. Lastly, returned payments incur a fee of $37.

Introductory Interest Rates

For both purchases and balance transfers, there is a 0% Intro APR that applies to the first 15 billing cycles that your account is open. Once the introductory period is over, your rate will vary depending upon your creditworthiness.

For either cash advances or overdraft advances, the rate is 25.24%.

No interest will be charged on your account if you pay the entire balance by the due date. That will be a minimum of 21 days after the close of each billing cycle.

Interest rate calculation: After the introductory period, your interest rate will be calculated based on the Prime Rate (currently 3.50%), plus a margin of between 10.74% and 19.74% in the case of either a purchase or balance transfer. For cash advances and overdraft advances, 21.74% is added to the Prime Rate. The maximum APR in either case is 29.99%.


Ally CashBack Credit Card Review

In an exciting move, Ally Bank has introduced its very first credit card: the Ally CashBack. This new rewards-earner offers something for everyone and makes a good competitor when stacked against other cash back cards, right off the bat.

Before establishing their inaugural credit card, Ally Bank conducted a series of surveys to find out exactly what the market sought. Their findings?

Of credit card-users surveyed, 58% said they preferred a cash back option over travel rewards, gift cards, or even introductory interest rates. On top of that, 80% of respondents said that if rewards were earned, they would prefer to hold various financial products — such as loans, checking/savings accounts, and credit cards — with the same bank, rather than spread them out.

Ally took this information and created the Ally CashBack, which I expect to hold its own among other cash back offers out there. Here is a bit more about the card:

The Rewards

In an attempt to be beneficial to all cardholders, Ally eliminated rotating categories and gave its highest cash back rate (2%) to the categories that apply to pretty much everyone: gas and groceries.

While there are cards that offer higher percentages for either category, they are often rotating (such as 5% back with Discover it® and Chase Freedom® during those promotional quarters). The exception would be my personal favorite, the American Express Blue Cash Preferred — which offers up to 6% on groceries and 3% on gas — though that card also includes an annual fee.

For all purchases not involving gas or groceries, the Ally CashBack card gives 1% back. There is no limit on rewards and they do not expire as long as your account is in good standing.

Bonus — If you’re a customer with the bank, you’ll receive an additional 10% cash back when you deposit your rewards into an Ally non-IRA Online Savings, Interest Checking, or Money Market account. This convenience factor is similar to Fidelity’s Rewards Visa Signature® cash back card, though that one does not offer a bonus for redeeming into existing accounts, as you’ll get from Ally.

You can visit the Ally CashBack site to explore their cash back calculator. Enter your monthly spending on gas, groceries, and everything else, and it will tell you not only your annual rewards, but the potential bonus cash back for depositing in an Ally account.

Ally1

APR, Annual Fee, and Sign-up Bonus

In the quest to be as competitive as possible, Ally is also offering introductory APR for balance transfers: 0% for 12 months. There is no introductory rate for purchases and the standard APR is 13.24-23.24%, depending on creditworthiness.

The card comes with no annual fee, making its competitive edge just a bit sharper. Also, for a limited time, you will receive an initial spending bonus of $100 when you make $500 in purchases over the first 3 months of holding the card.

Other Extras

Ally was named the Best Online Bank of 2016 and the number of customer-friendly benefits they offer with their products spills over into the new credit card domain. Namely, these include 24/7 customer service, as well as online and mobile access to all of your accounts.

The Drawbacks

No card is perfect, and the Ally CashBack is no different. While it offers a 0% balance transfer APR for 12 months, it does not have a 0% purchase APR, like the Chase Slate® card or the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express.

Its 2% cash back on groceries and gas is a solid offering, though other cards may offer more at times. For example, Chase Freedom® and Discover it® with CashBack Match™ both offer 5% back on both gas and groceries — the caveat being that those are rotating, quarterly categories (so, you don’t get that rate year round). For some, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express may be the best option, with 3% back all year on groceries and 2% all year on gas (all other categories get 1% back).

Whether the Ally CashBack is the card for you depends on where you spend your money, but it’s certainly worthy of consideration.

In Summary

There are cards out there that offer a higher percentage of cash back, though only a few of them have no annual fee. While this is Ally’s first foray into the credit card realm, they are off to a strong start with the Ally CashBack, offering:

  • 2% cash back on gas and groceries
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • 10% cash back bonus for redeeming into certain Ally accounts
  • Introductory 0% APR for 12 months on balance transfers
  • $100 initial bonus for making $500 in purchases in your first 3 months
  • No annual fee
  • Benefits such as 24/7 customer service and online/mobile account access

It will be interesting to see how the new Ally card competes in the cash back arena, but my gut tells me it will be a strong contender right out of the gate.

You can apply for the card here.