Citi/AAdvantage: Earn Miles, Save Some Too

For earning miles, the Citi/AAdvantage credit cards are fairly good ones, offering 1 mile per $1 spent (or 1.2 miles per dollar until May 31st for me, as I wrote about here) and relatively low annual fees starting at $85.
 
But Citi/AAdvantage credit cards come with another perk that is often overlooked.  Credit card holders are given access to quarterly offers for Reduced Mileage Rewards for domestic trips.  Although I generally do not recommend redeeming miles for domestic trips since international trips are usually a better deal in miles-per-dollar saved, with the Citi/AAdvantage card, it is an option worth considering.  In general, round-trip domestic flights go for 25,000 miles on almost all airline programs, but every quarter Citi Gold/AAdvantage and Citi/AAdvantage American Express card holders are given a list of cities in the United States and Canada to which they can travel using only 20,000 miles (45,000 for business class).  Citi Platinum Select/AAdvantage, Citi Select/AAdvantage American Express and CitiBusiness/AAdvantage card holders can fly for slightly less: 17,500 on economy or 42,500 on business.
  Continue reading

Credit Card Offers Reward the Prudent and the Patient

Over the last few months I received three invitations from American Airlines/ American Express to sign up for a new joint AA-Amex credit card that would not have an annual fee as long as I kept my current American Airlines Citibank MasterCard as well.  As a sign-up bonus, the AA Amex card would give me 20% more miles during the first 12 months.  I assume this offer was sent to all AA Citibank card holders, and although I contemplated signing up for the card, I ultimately decided that 20% was not enough to convince me to add another card to my wallet.

We already wrote about checking your “junk mail” for interesting offers, but here I clarify that statement – don’t jump into any “junk mail” offer you get either.  Weigh the offer and consider your circumstances as well.  Naturally, if you accepted every single credit card invitation that included some kind of reward, you credit score would probably suffer while your wallet would likely be overflowing with cards.  Rather, when deciding whether to switch or take on a new rewards credit card, consider how it fits with your other cards.  Is the new card offering you a 1% cash back on everything when you already have a card that offers that?  Does it make sense for you to take on a new credit card with a different rewards program and split up your point accumulation?  That’ll largely depend on whether each of the reward schemes offers something unique and valuable to you, the reward rate of each card, as well as how much you put on your credit card each month.  If your credit card bill is small and it already takes you a while to accumulate enough points for a reward, for example, splitting your purchases between two cards will mean it’ll take even longer. Continue reading

Paying Dearly for Travel Mistakes – and Avoiding Some of the Costs

I just came across today’s entry on the NY Times’ blog “You’re the Boss”, which tells a story that I believe resonates with many of us.  Jay Goltz, a small business owner in Chiago, explains how he lost $1,400 in airfare – and possibly some more in hotel fees – by accidentally booking the wrong dates for his trip.

We all make mistakes, and frequently there’s a cost involved in that.  In his case, he ended up at the mercy of Air France and its rules, as it had been almost two weeks since he had booked his original flight: Continue reading

Give Your Credit Card “Junk Mail” a Chance

It goes without saying that, for security reasons, you should never throw away any regular mail you receive from your credit card company without opening it – you do not want PIN numbers or new credit cards on your name going straight to the dumpster where someone can find them.  But sometimes you might even find a useful announcement inside those envelopes.  As I wrote a while back, Discover at least once notified its customers through mail that it would be giving 5% cash back on restaurants for a month.  If you did not open that letter, you probably would only have found out about it if you diligently visit your online account.

For the same reason, emails are worth a glance.  Not only do credit card companies usually send “online alerts,” such as a notification of a new statement or a payment reminder, but they can also offer some exclusive customer deals.  In September, for example, my Citibank/ AAdvantage credit card was offering bonus miles and an extra package of channels on DirecTV for customers buying the NFL Sunday Ticket; and in October customers can get 2,500 miles for joining Netflix, a better deal than just going through AA.com, which gives just 1,500 miles (and in the webpage sent to credit card members, it is unclear whether you actually have to use your Citi/AA card to take advantage of the offer).  Besides miles offers, though, every month I also receive some potentially useful coupons for the same credit card – the latest ones include 20% off at Ann Taylor, 15% off at Charles Tyrwhitt, and $10 off a $40 purchase at Origins (the latter is valid until 10/31/2009 – just use your Citi/AAdvantage card and coupon code CITIAAOCT).

And not treating your credit card emails as spam does not have to mean having your inbox clogged – many people have a “junk mail” email they check periodically.  Alternatively, if you have Gmail, you can filter your credit card emails so that they bypass your Inbox and go straight to a “credit cards” or “junk mail” folder, which you can check every month (settings > filters > create new filter, and click “Skip the Inbox”).  And regardless of how choose to arrange your email so that you get around to the offers, you may come to find that not everything you get from your credit card company is bad news.

Double up on Travel Bonuses this Fall

As travel plans are cut out to save on personal and business costs, reaching a meaningful threshold in a travel rewards program has become less and less realistic for many people this year.  But to give you a boost and keep you traveling, some airlines and Amtrak are giving double points this fall.

Airlines typically have sales in which they give double miles for travel on specific routes.  But this fall, many airlines are also giving double elite qualifying miles (EQM) for travel to any destination.  In contrast to double miles, bonus EQMs cannot be redeemed for travel and expire in the end of the year, but they can help you reach elite status faster.  In most airlines, you need to earn 25,000 EQMs within a calendar year to reach the lowest elite tier, and more for higher ones.  Elite membership not only gives your priority in boarding, seating, and standby, but also entitles you to bonus miles for travel.  Most airlines give 25% bonus miles – which can be redeemed for travel – to members of their lowest elite tier and 100% or more to members of higher tiers on almost any flight.  So think of qualifying for elite status this year through EQMs as an investment for earning more redeemable miles next year.

As covered by Tim Winship from smartertravel, American announced its double EQM deal in early September, and was soon followed by United and Continental.  All three deals require pre-registration and run until December 15, 2009.  Keep an eye out for other airlines that may eventually take part in this competition.

Amtrak is also trying to draw in more travelers by making its rewards more attainable: until December 19, 2009, you can get double points for any travel through its “Double Days” promotion.  Pre-registration is also required, but, unlike the airline programs, the extra points earned can be redeemed for travel.  Amtrak’s program (explained in a previous post in more detail) awards points per dollar spent, which can then be redeemed for Amtrak tickets.  The number of points required varies by Amtrak line, with travel on the northeast corridor requiring the most.

Just because you or business has to cut down on travel this year does not mean you shouldn’t get a shot at reaching elite status or earning enough Amtrak points for travel.  Pre-register for these deals now to reach travel rewards goals twice as fast this fall.

Shop Around for Miles and Cash Back Too

With so many online portals offering miles or cash back if you shop through their website, it pays to look around for the best rewards out there.  So after you’ve done your research for the item you are going to buy and have found the perfect coupon code, you should look for bonus deals on online portals before hitting the purchase button.  You may need some patience to look through them but you will be duly rewarded for that, as the bonuses differ a lot from website to website and from store to store.  Here are four examples:

The Apple Store:

  • Discover’s ShopDiscover: 5% cash back
  • Bank of America’s Add It Up: 2% cash back
  • Upromise: 1% cash back
  • United’s Mileage Plus Mall: 3 miles per $2
  • American Airlines’ AAdvantage eShopping: 1 mile per $1
  • Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping: 1 mile per $1
  • Amtrak’s Points for Shopping: 2 points per $1

Expedia.com:

  • Upromise: 1% cash back
  • Bank of America’s Add It Up: 1% cash back

Macy’s:

  • Upromise: 6% cash back through August 7, usually 3%
  • Discover’s ShopDiscover: 5% cash back
  • Bank of America’s Add It Up: 4% cash back
  • American Airlines’ AAdvantage eShopping: 4 miles per $1 through September 6, usually 3 miles per $1
  • United’s Mileage Plus Mall: 7 miles per $2
  • Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping: 2 miles per $1
  • Amtrak’s Points for Shopping: 3 points per $1

Snapfish:

  • Bank of America’s Add It Up: 15% cash back
  • Discover’s ShopDiscover: 15% cash back
  • Upromise: 9% cash back
  • American Airlines’ AAdvantage eShopping: 6 mile per $1
  • Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping: 6 miles per $1
  • United’s Mileage Plus Mall: 9 miles per $2
  • Amtrak’s Points for Shopping: 5 points per $1

As you can see from the list above, bonuses vary significantly, and some stores even have limited time deals.  So if you have the time, don’t just stick to one portal.  In deciding through which one to shop , consider the size of the bonus as well as in which program you already have some miles or are close to reaching some sort of cash back threshold for redemption.  Either way, you will be turning your good deal purchase into an even better deal.

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