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.

A Peek into My Wallet, Part II

Whether you are searching for a new credit card or re-evaluating the credit cards you already have, keep in mind that there are very few reasons to have more than 1-2 credit cards.  Having too many revolving lines of credit might lower your credit score and might increase the amount of time it takes to redeem any sort of meaningful reward.  Here are the credit cards I keep in my wallet:

Citi Forward Visa – As mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, I got this card to replace my corporate credit card, which I have been using as my primary credit card for the past three years (more on this in a later post).  There is no annual fee and you get rewards for being a responsible cardholder, such as 100 ThankYou points each month and a 0.25% APR reduction every 3 months for staying under your credit limit and paying on time (These are things I have always done, and yet have never been rewarded for them before.  But your APR can only be reduced by up to 2%.).   Further, I get 5 ThankYou points for each $1 spent on books, music, movies, and restaurants.  These purchases make up the bulk of my spending anyway!  For all other purchases, I get 1 point for each $1 spent.  Last, I love Citi’s ThankYou Network rewards program, as I have already discussed in a previous post.

Discover More Credit Card – I also use this as my secondary credit card for the reasons mentioned in Part I.  Another reason I love this credit card is  the fact that I can order multiple cards for the same account, including one that can be put in my keyring.  Discover offers a variety of card designs, so you can choose the one (or several) to reflect your personality and to put them in different wallets.  Plus, the Discover card is the only card for which I have gotten compliments from waitresses and cashiers.  I can also purchase from retailers through ShopDiscover and get 5% cash back that way.

Let us know which credit cards are in your wallet and how they have worked for you.

Thank You in So Many Ways

I recently applied for the new Citi FORWARD Visa Card, because I will resign from my company in a few months and be forced to relinquish my corporate Diner’s Club MasterCard. The Citi FORWARD is a pretty neat credit card and I will go into more details at a later post. For now, however, I would like to talk about the Thank You Network, which I recently discovered and which serves as the rewards program for all Citi-affiliated credit cards, financial products and services.

A unique feature of the Thank You Network is that you can amass all the points you have collected from various places into one consolidated account. Below are some of the ways to earn points:

  1. Use a Citi credit card, such as the Citi FORWARD.
  2. Link your Citibank account to your Thank You account. If you have a Citibank account (either the Access or Basic Checking), an ATM card, and a direct deposit set up, this will earn you 25 points each month. Think about it – you don’t have to make a single purchase and you still earn 25 points each month.
  3. AND if you do use your ATM card, you get a point for every $2 you spend on purchases with your signature (meaning you click “Credit” at the machine and sign your name) and for every $3 you spend with your pin (meaning you click “Debit” and enter your pin number).
  4. Make purchases through retailers at the Thank You Bonus Center and earn bonus points. For example, currently you can earn 3 points for every dollar you spend at iTunes.
  5. Book hotels, cruises, and vacation packages through Expedia. Of course, you should only do so if you were to come across a good deal. You can also earn points on flights if you book a hotel stay at the same time. In this scenario, you would earn frequent flier miles for the flight and Thank You points for both the flight and hotel.

And I am not even done. Once you are ready to redeem your points, the Thank You Network’s reward collection is akin to an Amazon store. You can redeem points for books, DVDs, music, and electronics, etc.  There is even a sale section, where you can get items at a discounted number of points.  In addition, you can also trade your points for a student loan rebate to pay for your student loans. A $25 rebate will set you back 3,300 points. 

Obviously, I am not advocating that everyone switch to/set up a Citibank account or sign up for a Citi card; I was simply struck by how quickly and easy I can earn points through the Network and the many rewards options I have to redeem my points. If you just graduated and are still wondering which checking account to get and/or for which credit card to apply, I think the Thank You Network presents a pretty compelling case to become a Citi customer.