New York + Restaurant Week + AMEX + foursquare = $5 off

If you’re in New York this summer, make sure to check out its Restaurant Week event. What originally started as a week in which higher-end restaurants offer affordable fixed-price deals has been extended in several cities, such as Boston and Philly, into two-week events. But New York has taken it to a new extreme – the city’s 2011 Restaurant Week was scheduled for July 11-24, but has since been extended for another six weeks.  The NYC Restaurant Week Extension runs from July 25th to September 5th (excluding Saturdays and, depending on the restaurant, Sundays as well) with lunch specials for $24.07 and dinner for $35.

And American Express and the social media enterprise foursquare have stepped in to make this summer deal even sweeter. If you are a foursquare member, you can get a $5 credit on your Amex statement when you use your Amex card at a participating restaurant.

To get the credit, you have to register (“sync”) your Amex card to your foursquare account, and “check-in” at a participating restaurant during the Restaurant Week Extension period. When you do so, you will automatically get an offer on your phone. After accepting the offer (“Load to Card”), if you spend $24 or more – which you probably will, considering that the lunch deal is $24.07 and dinner is more expensive anyway – and pay with your Amex card, you should get a $5 credit on your credit card statement within 5 business days.

If you don’t have a foursquare account, you can download the program onto your phone for free. Note, however, that Prepaid and Corporate Amex cards and payments using Amex’s ExpressPay feature are not eligible for this offer. And if you have multiple Amex cards, you can only have one “synched” with your foursquare account at a time. Also, you can only earn one of these $5 statement credits per participating restaurant, though there’s no limit to how many credits you can earn if you go to a different restaurant each time. Almost all restaurants in participating in the Restaurant Week Extension are part of the Amex/foursquare statement credit offer, but for a list, click here.

If are in New York before Labor Day, be sure to check their Restaurant Week Extension offer. The list of participating restaurants may be a good place to start if you’re just looking for a place to eat. And even if you already have your dining plans set, you never know – you could find out that the restaurant you are visiting just happens to be participating as well. Then don’t forget to check-in and use your Amex card to get $5 back.

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

Better Save Now than Later

The recession might have ended, but we are still a long way from recovery.  Back in July, we wrote about some of the better online savings options that were available.  We hope that you took advantage of those “high” interest rates then, because since then all the institutions covered have reduced their savings interest rates.

Here are the current rates (APY) as of November 1, 2009:

There are, however, still a few institutions that offer interest rates over 2.00% APY, such as SFGI Direct’s Online Savings at 2.25%  with a $500 minimum deposit and ShoreBank’s Direct’s Online Savings at 2.15% with a $1 minimum deposit.  These places may be unfamiliar to you, but rest assured that they are FDIC-insured.  So if you haven’t started saving yet, start today before these interest rates fall as well.

If you have already opened a savings account and are discouraged by the falling interest rates, remember that your money still worked harder for you sitting in a savings account and collecting some interest rather than in a checkings around collecting no interest.  And nothing is standing in the way of closing your current account and opening a new one with a higher interest rate.  Happy Savings!

Not All Savings Accounts are Created Equal

As interest rates on savings accounts creep down towards Japanese lows, keeping your money in cash or letting it sit in a checking account may be tempting.  But as we argued in our first post, there are some savings options that can still give you at least a spark for your buck.  Along with savings accounts at credit unions, online savings accounts have one of the highest yields among your low risk options.

ING Direct’s Orange Savings and HSBC Direct’s Online Savings are probably two of the best known online savings accounts.  Offering a 1.40% and 1.55% interest rate (APY), however, they are easily beat by other options.

You can do better with Discover’s new Online Savings and American Express’ High-Yield Savings, both with a 2.00% interest rate (APY).  It seems that as people try to cut down their credit card spending, credit card companies are also turning to savings.  Discover requires a $500 minimum deposit to open the savings account, but imposes no minimum balance thereafter.  Amex has no minimum deposit or balance requirement, and both accounts allow up to six transactions per month (they are savings accounts after all).

Now there’s also SmartyPig, which got a special mention in Ron Lieber’s financial health day article on the NYTimes a couple of weeks ago.  It offers a daring 2.75% interest rate (APY) and requires only a $25 minimum deposit.  But before you rush to open it, consider whether some of its other features may become an inconvenience to you: SmartyPig is set up as a program to help people save for specific goals, and, as such, requires that you define a savings goal between $250 and $250,000 and set up monthly deposits to come in from an existing account according to your timeline and goal (SmartyPig calculates the value of the deposits for you).  If you need more flexibility in allocating your money towards savings, this may not be a good option for you, though you could set a very small goal and add more money at your pace.  A nice feature of this program, however, is that you can make your account “public” to friends and/or family through email, where you can choose to show them your goal and the percentage and amount saved towards it, and they can contribute to it, too.

Chances are, though, your friends and family are also trying to build savings of their own (and if not, you should definitely encourage them to do so).  Particularly in this economy, a rainy day fund or saving for a goal is always better than no fund or savings at all, but one that grows, albeit slowly, is even better.

Competing for a Slot in Your Wallet

Big news: Chase is unveiling a new Ultimate Rewards program for its credit cards to compete directly with American Express’ Membership Rewards loyalty program and Citi’s Thank You Network program.  For now, the program doesn’t seem as large or rewarding as Citi’s ThankYou Network.  You can only earn points through two credit cards (the Freedom and the new Sapphire), where you get a point for every dollar spent or three points for every dollar spent in categories (restaurants, clothing, gas) that change each quarter.  This is similar but still not as good as Discover’s 5% Cashback Bonus program.  You can also earn points by shopping from retailers through the Ultimate Rewards Mall, much like the Thank You Bonus Center and ShopDiscover.  You don’t, however, get extra points by linking your Chase bank account to the rewards program, and although Chase doesn’t have an Expedia counterpart, you can also earn points by booking travel on the Ultimate Rewards website.  Regardless, having one more choice in the credit world is good from a consumer’s prespective and hopefully Chase will improve its new rewards progam to make it more appealling and more competitive.