Movie Night Tomorrow with Visa and Fandango

If you are a Visa Signature credit card holder, you may want to make tomorrow a movie night. Throughout the summer Visa has been running a Friday 2-for-1 deal with Fandango, whereby its Signature members who buy two or more tickets for the same show through this link get one of them free. This deal is only valid for same-day purchases on Fridays, and tomorrow August 17th is the last day.

Several cards under the Visa brand are Visa Signature cards, including the Chase Sapphire, a United Airlines and an Alaska Airlines card, and even the Capital One Venture card. Just look in your wallet and if you find any card that says “Visa Signature” on it, it should qualify. If you’re still not sure, Visa/Fandango can let you know; before buying your ticket you are required to enter your credit card number and you should get a message saying whether it is a Signature card or not.

2-for-1 Movies from Visa and Fandango

As for the rest of the rules, the main catch is that in order to get the 2-for-1 deal you have to book through Fandango, incurring its convenience fee. However, the 2-for-1 does include the fee as well, so that at least you’ll only pay for half of it. And half a fee is likely cheaper than a whole other ticket. The discount covers up to $19.50 and is only valid once every 30 days, so you can get in on this deal tomorrow only if the last time you took advantage of it was Friday, July 13th or earlier.

If you have a Visa Signature card but are not planning on watching a movie tomorrow or have already used the deal in the last 30 days, you can still get a discount: Signature cardholders get $5 off each purchase of $25 “Fandango Bucks” through the same link. “Fandango Bucks” are essentially Fandango gift cards, which must be redeemed through fandango.com but can be used any day and do not expire. Visa Signature card holders can buy up to $100 worth of Fandango Bucks each month until October 31, 2012. If you frequently buy tickets through Fandango anyway – particularly if you catch movies on weekends when they are first released and may get sold out before you reach the theatre – this can be a nice discount.

If you’re looking for something to do tomorrow, a 2-for-1 deal on movie tickets just might do the trick. But if you’re enjoying the sun and it doesn’t seem like the right day to be indoors, you can still load up on some discounted “Fandango Bucks” and save them for a rainy day.

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Getting the Most from Your Amazon Purchases

If you are America’s largest online retailer, you don’t have to offer coupons or cash back deals to get people to buy from your web store. But if you are an Amazon customer, there are still ways to maximize the savings you get when making purchases on Amazon.com.

First, there’s Amazon Prime, which, for $79 offers 2-day shipping for an entire year on “millions of items” sold on Amazon, and, in my experience, almost all items shipped by Amazon itself. Students can get one year of Amazon Prime for free, and pay only $39 per year subsequently. If you shop a lot online, or are in the market for some bulky item with a high shipping charge, Amazon Prime may be a good deal.

But to get the most out of your Amazon purchases, look into double-dipping. Since August 2011, Hawaiian Airlines’ eMarket has been giving miles, now downgraded to 1 mile per dollar, for purchases made on Amazon.com. US Airways briefly also offered this deal, but has since pulled it down, making the eMarket currently the only portal worth a visit before an Amazon purchase.

earn miles on Amazon purchases through Hawaiian Airlines’ eMarket portal

To double-dip, take a peek in your wallet. This quarter, from January 1st to March 31st, 2012, Chase Freedom cardholders get 5% cash back on up to $1500 spent on gas and Amazon.com. Unless you spend over $100 on gas every week, the $1500 ceiling should be enough to let you effectively get up to 5% in savings when shopping on Amazon until the end of March.

If you don’t have the Chase Freedom card, the Citi Forward card may do the trick as well. Currently, the Citi Forward card, which gives 5 points per dollar on restaurants, books, music, and movies, seems to categorize purchases made on Amazon.com as “books,” effectively yielding 5% cash back when buying through the online retailer. However, unlike Chase Freedom’s deal, which explicitly includes Amazon.com in its 5% cash back category, Citi Forward does not offer a list of retailers eligible for earning 5 points per dollar. In other words, it’s a very sweet deal right now, but you should keep an eye on your statements since Citi can decide at any time that what you’re buying on Amazon doesn’t really count as a book.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to use points and save on cash when buying on Amazon, check your Discover balance instead. In October 2011, Discover announced a new redemption option for its cash back program: spend it on Amazon. The dollars are spent 1-to-1, but while statement credits and direct deposits can only be redeemed in increments of $50, the “pay with Cashback Bonus” option for Amazon allows Discover cardholders to redeem any amount of cash back on an Amazon purchase, which means you don’t have to wait as long to transform the cash back you earned into real cash. For this, all you have to do is link your Discover and Amazon accounts here.

But whether you use the Chase Freedom or Citi Forward card to earn more points, or Discover to redeem points, don’t forget to go through Hawaiian’s eMarket. Even though Amazon’s prices are often already a good deal, and there aren’t many coupons to be found, double-dipping can still maximize what you get out of your Amazon.com purchase.

Chipping Student Loans Away through Shopping

New Year’s is just around the corner, and it looks like I’ll get to celebrate fulfilling one of my 2011 resolutions: pay off one of my graduate school student loans! In three years, I chipped away a $15,550 student loan balance, which now stands at just over $200. I’ll use some Christmas money to finish it off, and should ring in the New Year with one less student loan to deal with (but 2 smaller ones to go).

Besides making payments on the loan during deferment, I used two shopping tools to help me work on that loan: UPromise and ThankYou points.

I’ve covered the UPromise program before, but to summarize, it’s primarily based on a shopping portal that gives cash back to users. The cash back balance can then be applied against a Sallie Mae student loan account, transferred to a 529 education savings account, or redeemed for cash. The cash back rate is often not as high as that from Discover’s ShopDiscover or Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall, but every so often I come across retailers that are not partners with either of these two but are in the UPromise portal.

Not that credit cards don’t help with student loans. Over the last two years, Citi’s ThankYou points program has been vital to erasing my student loan balance. I have the CitiForward credit card, which offers 5 Thank You points per dollar spent on books, movies, music, and, most importantly, restaurants, and 1 point on everything else. These points can then be redeemed for gift cards and cash, but also cheques to pay student loan or mortgage balances! Until September 2011, to get a $100 cheque, you needed 12,700 points, but since then the requirement has dropped to 10,000 points. There was no official announcement about this change, so I don’t know how long it will last – if you’re sitting on any ThankYou points and have a student loan or a mortgage, now might be the best time to redeem them.

Now, 12,500 ThankYou points trade for $125 in Student Loan Rebates. In April, 12,700 points were required for $100.

Admittedly, at 10,000 points for $100, this is the same redemption rate as for, say, a Banana Republic or a Macy’s gift card. However, I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to spend money shopping than it is to put money aside to pay off my student loan more quickly, so I prefer redeeming ThankYou points for student loan payments since it’s a way to force myself to pay down the loan with money that never made it to my hands in the first place. Besides, the redemption rate for student loans and mortgage payments is much better than for cash: $100 in cash costs 16,000 ThankYou points.

To redeem ThankYou points for student loan or mortgage payments, all you have to do is call the ThankYou network (1800-THANKYOU) and give them your lending company’s name. They will then mail you the cheque, which you can send to your lending institution along with a note with any special instructions on how to apply the payment (e.g., post everything to the loan with the highest interest rate or to the one with the smallest balance). For UPromise, even though the payments post automatically, you can also call Sallie Mae to request a change to how any payment is applied.

With less than two weeks of 2011 left, if you are also aiming to making a big chip on your student loan or mortgage balance, now might be a great time to ramp up the online purchases you make through UPromise or to redeem your ThankYou points for loan payments. The fact that now you only need 10,000 ThankYou points for a $100 cheque not only sweetens the deal but may also be the push you need – it’s not clear how long this new rate will stick around.

And if it’s too late for 2011, here’s an easy 2012 resolution for you: set up and remember to use UPromise or the ThankYou network to get rid of your student loans next year. Good luck, and have fun watching your loan balance disappear!

At Outlets, Mom and Dad Can Save You Money

Outlet shopping is a pretty obvious way to save money when compared to shopping at regular retailers. But there’s a way to save even more on outlet shopping: bring mom and dad along. No, I’m not suggesting that you should have them pay for your new outfits so you can keep your cash, although I’m sure some parents are more than happy to do so. Rather, there’s a discount that only they can give you: the Premium Outlets chain – which includes the outlet malls at Gilroy (CA), Woodbury (NY), and Wrentham (MA) – offers a 10% discount to shoppers over 50 years of age, every Tuesday.

I learned this about a year ago, when my mom was visiting me. We decided to take advantage of the fact that I was on vacation too and went outlet shopping on a weekday to avoid the crowds. The Premium Outlets chain is by far my favorite outlet option since they not only have good brands but the malls are also outdoors and the stores are for the most part clean and organized. They might not be the cheapest outlet malls out there, but the way they are set up makes for a much more pleasant experience since I don’t have to dig through heaps of stuff to find good deals.

So there we were: my mom and I on a shopping outing, on what happened to be a Tuesday. As my mom was checking out, I spotted a sign on the counter that said something like

50 Plus Shopper Perks

If you are at least 50 years of age you can take advantage of an added 10% savings on Tuesdays by simply presenting a photo identification with your proof of age to the cashier at participating stores. [taken from the Premium Outlets website]

I pointed it out, and told my mom to ask about it since we were there on a Tuesday anyway. The cashier interjected, “Don’t worry. I already applied the discount to your purchase.” If I were my mom, who happens to be in her “young 50s,” I would have been mortified or at the very least upset. But my mom took it in stride and was just happy with her discount. In fact, she then asked me if I didn’t want to buy more stuff that day, seeing as I could get the discount only with her anyway.

shopping

Photo credit: F-oxymoron (Creative Commons)

The list of participating stores for this discount varies by outlet mall, but is fairly long and includes J.Crew, Ralph Lauren, Vineyard Vines, and even Samsonite. To see the list for the Premium Outlet you are planning on visiting, just click on it on this map, then go to “sales & events”> “50 Plus Shopper Perks.”

My mom is visiting me again in a couple of weeks, and since she wants to go shopping, I will make sure to schedule the outlet trip for a Tuesday. It should be a good mother-and-daughter bonding experience – I’ll help her pick out clothes and carry her shopping bags, she’ll get me a 10% discount.

ev’reward: An Awesome Shortcut for Miles and Cashback Comparison Shopping

Late last week, I learned about a great website that I think is worth sharing: ev’reward.

I strongly believe in going through a portal whenever I online shop, so once I find something I want to buy, I put it in my check-out basket and then visit several portals to find out which one is giving the highest mileage or cashback return for that store. As I showed a while back, there isn’t one portal that is always the best – some portals have more partner stores than others, and the highest miles/ cashback yield varies by portal and store. And while I still visit several online portals, I admit that checking every one is a fairly time-consuming process if all you want to do is click “buy” and have an item delivered to your house.

Step in ev’reward. Through this website, you don’t have to decide whether visiting each portal is worth it for you – ev’reward automatically visits them and tells you what their deals are! All you have to do is type the name of the online store from which you’re buying something, and ev’reward gives you a list of portals and the miles or cashback each one will give you for making a purchase from that store. This cuts the research process to just a few seconds, and you can immediately see which portal will suit you best.

ev’reward’s output for Banana Republic: portals for cashback, savings, points, and miles

There are only two caveats that I’ve seen so far. First, some rates are a little outdated. For example, United’s Mileage Plus Shopping Portal is currently offering 2.5 miles per dollar spent at Banana Republic online, but ev’reward is showing only 2 miles per dollar. Second, it doesn’t list every portal out there, so that if you typed in “amazon.com,” you wouldn’t know through ev’reward that Hawaiian’s and US Airways’ shopping portals currently give miles for Amazon purchases.

Nonetheless, if you usually check several portals like I do before buying, ev’reward is a great starting point to find out which ones are even worth looking into. In the case of J.Crew, for example, ev’reward correctly does not list ShopDiscover as a cashback portal, so I know there’s no point in checking, which saves me some time. On the other hand, if you are not planning on investigating each portal before buying, with the ev’reward output, you can at least be sure that if you go through any portal on its list, you’ll get more miles or cashback than if you didn’t go through one at all.

Apple Calls – and Raises? – Staples’ Back to School Deal

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Staples’ current offer of a $100 prepaid card for students buying select laptops, which has since become the most popular post on this blog. As I argued on that post, despite all the hype, I don’t think it’s such a great deal, particularly since the offer is limited to 4 laptop models. But here’s a similar offer that might be worth getting excited about if you’re already Mac fan: Apple is giving a $100 Apple gift card to any student who buys a Mac (except for the Mini) by September 20, 2011.

The downside of this promotion as compared to the Staples’ one is that you get the reward as an Apple gift card, which can only be redeemed on the Mac App Store, the iTunes Stores, and the iBookstore, while the Staples deal offers a Visa prepaid card, which can be used anywhere. On the other hand, Apple’s offer applies to all new iMacs, MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, and Mac Pros – both laptops and desktops – while Staples’ deal is much more limited.

a screenshot of Apple's deal: Who qualifies? You might!

Then again, even the cheapest Mac is more expensive than any of the laptops that qualify for the Staples offer. But let’s be honest: if you’re an Apple fan, you’re likely not in it for the money. So if you’re going big anyway, you might as well get the $100 gift card with your purchase.

To qualify for the gift card, you must use the Education Pricing discount that Apple usually offers to college students, parents, and faculty, which means you’ll get the discount plus the $100 card. To get the deal, you can buy your new computer online through the Apple Education Store, at an Apple store, or at your campus store. If you buy your new computer through one of the first two, the gift card will come with your purchase. If you buy on campus, just visit www.apple.com/promo within 90 days of your purchase to claim your gift card. There’s a limit of 2 gift cards per person during this promotion.

While Macs are definitely not the cheapest computers out there, I’m highlighting this offer in Money Under Your Futon because this blog isn’t just about saving; it’s about finding ways to save so you can live in style. If you’re a Mac fan, you clearly care about style. And if you’re eligible for this offer, you need all the deals you can get.

Now, Go Through a Portal to Buy on Amazon

To save when shopping online it is well established that you should (1) run a quick search for coupons and (2) shop through an online portal if you can. But until recently, if you were buying anything on Amazon, there was no way to double-dip. You could of course get points/miles through your credit card, but there wasn’t any portal offering points/miles or cash back for Amazon purchases. This changed very recently: now, US Airways’ Shopping Mall now gives 1 mile per $1 spent on amazon.com and Hawaiian Airlines’ eMarket gives 2 miles per $1 spent!

If you are a member of any of these two airline programs and make a lot of purchases on Amazon, this is amazing news. All you have to do is register at the respective portal, and remember to reach Amazon by clicking through the portal link rather than typing it on your browser bar directly when making a purchase.

Amazon.com now on Hawaiian's eMarket

If you shop on Amazon frequently but are not a member of US Airways’ Dividend Miles or Hawaiian’s HawaiianMiles frequent flier programs, there may still be something in it for you. Depending on how much you shop, it may be worthwhile to set up an account with either of the two programs and start accumulating miles anyway. A purchase here and there may not seem to make a difference, but given that membership is free and, for both programs, miles do not expire as long as you have an activity in the account every 18 months, if you buy stuff on Amazon there’s really no reason not to set up an account. In the worst case scenario, your miles expire and you earn nothing – and lose nothing. In the best case scenario, you either shop frequently enough to keep the account going and accumulate miles for a ticket eventually or, even better, you learn that you spend more on Amazon than you anticipated and earn a free ticket in no time.

When deciding for which of the two programs to sign up, there are some things to consider. On one hand, US Airways is a larger airline with more partners, so if you are looking for a mileage program in general, it’s a good bet. Once you’ve set up the account, you can always credit flights you take on US Airways as well as on other Star Alliance members, including United/Continental and international carriers such as Thai and Lufthansa, and accumulate miles even faster.

On the other hand, while Hawaiian is not in an alliance and only has 4 airline partners (Delta, Island Air, Korean Air, and Virgin Atlantic), its portal offers twice as many miles per dollar spent on Amazon. So, if you don’t fly on any of US Airways’ or Hawaiian’s partners, or already have your favorite frequent flier program, Hawaiian may be a good option just for earning those Amazon miles.  Also, as has been pointed out by some very savvy people who know the ins-and-outs of frequent flier programs, every 5000 HawaiianMiles can be converted into 10,000 Hilton HHonors points, making this a compelling deal for Hilton HHonors members too.

Amazon’s new participation in US Airways’ Shopping Mall and Hawaiian’s eMarket portals is exciting news in general.  For members of HawaiianMiles, US Airways’ Dividend Miles, or Hilton HHonors benefits could be great. But even if you aren’t a member of any of these programs, if you shop a lot on Amazon, there are probably still gains to be had by going through one of the two portals. And if you’re still not convinced, you could also sit back and wait: maybe Amazon’s participation in these two portals is a sign of even better times to come, when Amazon is giving miles, points, or cash back on every shopping portal out there.