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.

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JetBlue’s Unlimited Travel Pass make Autumn Jet-Setting a Breeze

If you are looking at a lot of pre-Thanksgiving travel, counting all of the weddings, family reunions, and long weekends, – or would just like an excuse to take more trips this Fall – you may want to look at JetBlue’s new BluePass tickets. These passes offer unlimited travel to and from Boston and Long Beach, CA, from August 22nd to November 22nd. BluePass tickets will be on sale until the end of August, or while supplies last, and flights can be booked starting on August 15th.

There are three BluePass options: Boston All, Boston Select, and Long Beach Select. The Boston All ticket goes for $1999 plus taxes and allows unlimited travel between Boston and all airports served by JetBlue from Boston, including several cities in the West Coast and many Caribbean destinations such as San Juan and Aruba (direct) and Saint Lucia, Montego Bay, and Cancun (connecting).

The Boston Select ticket ($1499) is more tailored towards business travel, allowing unlimited travel between Boston and 13 other cities, Chicago being the furthest West. Other valuable cities for business travelers included in this ticket are Washington, DC (both Dulles and National airports), New York JFK, and Pittsburgh. But this doesn’t mean this ticket can’t be used for fun too: you can also fly to/from Jacksonville and Bermuda this Fall with the Boston Select ticket.

From the West Coast, the Long Beach Select ticket ($1299) has some great destinations as well. The ticket covers unlimited pre-Thanksgiving travel between Long Beach and Las Vegas, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Portland, Seattle, Austin, and Chicago.

To buy any of these BluePass tickets, you need to be a member of TrueBlue, JetBlue’s frequent flier program for which you can sign up for free. You will then get 12,000 TrueBlue points if you buy the Boston All ticket, 9000 for the Boston Select and 8000 for the Long Beach Select ticket. Unfortunately, these are the only miles you will get for the BluePass tickets; JetBlue is not giving points for the actual flights taken with these passes.

Nonetheless, these passes come with a lot of flexibility. Flights can be booked or canceled up to 90 minutes before the scheduled departure time, which allows for last minute changes as well as spur-of-the-moment trips. Also, a no-show fee of $100 will only be assessed if you don’t show up for your trips twice within a 7-day period. In that case, your pass will only be reinstated once you pay the fee.

This is not a mileage run deal, but we are right in the middle of wedding season, and if you are starting to resent all those events for which you have to fly, these BluePass tickets may soften the blow. Besides, if one of these BluePass tickets is already financially worthwhile given the trips you expect to take before Thanksgiving, adding more trips on will just make it better. And if you legitimately have consistent business travel to or from Boston or Long Beach, getting work to pay for a BluePass ticket could be a great perk. Once you have the ticket, let the fun begin. With unlimited travel, it’s ok to take several weekend breaks and fly to the beach just because.

Perks of Recession

One of the perks of recession that I have received is 10,000 complimentary qualification miles from Delta’s SkyMiles program to keep my Silver Medallion status.  I earned my Silver Medallion status two years ago but haven’t traveled much since last November (not as a result of the economy), so it was due to expire.  I was surprised by Delta’s generosity, however – without any prompting, I recently got an email from them telling me they were giving me those extra qualification miles to ensure that I get to keep my Silver Medallion status until the end of next year.  This status allows me to earn a 25% mileage bonus on flights with Delta or any of its airline partners (such as Northwest, Continental, and Delta) and gives me priority  in boarding and waiting lists.  The only downside is that I don’t get to redeem these miles for future flights.

Share with us your “perks of the recession” story in the comments section!

Guard Your Miles

A while back, I received a piece of mail from US Airways regarding my Dividend Miles.  It looked official enough, complete with a message from the Director of Marketing Programs, and warned that my Dividend Miles will expire in a month, lest I redeem them for some magazine subscriptions!  It immediately aroused my suspicions – I have to redeem my miles but my only options are magazine subscriptions?  I called US Airways, where the representative on the phone assured me that my miles are in no danger of expiring for another 17 months and that the letter must be a mistake.

Mistake or a scam?  Know the truth and the truth shall set you free.  Both oneworld and Star Alliance only require activity (i.e., earning or redeeming your miles) every 18 months in order for your miles to remain active; SkyTeam 12 months.  In any event, remember that you are an educated college grad, not some average Joe,  and I would hate to know that you could be fooled by something like this.

Traveling Green Rewards More than Just the Environment

Amtrak also has its own frequent traveler program – Amtrak Guest Rewards.  It works just like airline frequent flier programs, allowing you to earn points for Amtrak rides (2 points per dollar spent on Amtrak travel) and through hotel, car rental, and other partners.  If you travel by Amtrak for work or pleasure, even if not frequently, you should consider opening an account.  The Guest Rewards points don’t expire as long as you take an Amtrak trip every 3 years.  And if you are a Zipcar member, you should definitely look into this program.  You can get an Amtrak point for every dollar you spend on Zipcar – just make sure to add your Amtrak Guest Rewards number to your Zipcar account (“my stuff” > “me” > “thank me”).

You’ll need 3,000 points for a ticket on the Northeast Line, but if you’re going out of town and are looking for a fun alternative to the typical road trip, Amtrak has some special routes with unreserved coach tickets for just 1,000 points, like the Pacific Surfliner (includes Santa Barbara-LA-San Diego) and the Downeaster (Boston-Maine).

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.