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.

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Five Deals for Your To-Do List This Week (and Beyond)

As your sort through your summer to-do list, here are some deals you may want to know:

  • This Tuesday, July 21st, Starbucks is giving a free pastry from opening until 10:30am with the purchase of any beverage.  Of course this is a good deal for those who usually purchase a coffee and/or pastry on your way to work [if all you want is a pastry, you could theoretically get a discounted pastry by buying a coffee that is cheaper than the pastry].  Check out the official announcement for more information.
  • When we first wrote about Borders Rewards, we noted that the rewards program itself is quite skimpy though the coupons that come with it are great.  Well, until the end of this month, Borders is making up for it – through July 31st, they are giving $5 in Borders Bucks for every $50 you spend in-store or at borders.com.  That’s essentially 10% back, which you can redeem and use in any future purchase.  This should be a good time to restock your summer reading books!
  • A while back we also wrote about the GapCard, which can be a great deal for those of you who shop at the Gap frequently.  It gives you 5 points per $1 you spend at Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, and piperlime.com, and you receive a $10 gift card for each 1,000 points you earn (basically 5% back).  If you were waiting for the right time to sign up, this may be it: until August 9th, besides the standard 500 bonus points for being a new member, you also get 20% off your first purchase online and double points until the end of the promotion period.  If you are already a GapCard or Gap Silver member, you are also eligible to earn double points through August 9th.
  • If you are a United Mileage Plus member and frequently shop at Safeway, Dominick’s, Vons, Genuardi’s, or Pavilions, register your store card (get one if you don’t have one yet!) with Mileage Plus to get 125 miles for every $250 miles you spend.  Once you register your store card, all you have to do to earn miles is use it when shopping – a pretty easy process to bring you closer to a free trip!  Click here to register.
  • With the recession, more people are going to movie theaters.  As you get ready to check off some new summer blockbusters from your list, you may want to sign up for the Regal Crown Club if there’s a Regal Cinema close to you.  It is a free membership program that awards 1 credit per dollar spent on ticket purchases (up to 15 credits per day) and another 2-4 credits for concession purchases.  And even if you use a corporate discount ticket such as the Super Saver you can still get credits when you redeem them for admission.  With this membership, you can participate in offers such as $1 candy on Mondays and $1 popcorn on Tuesdays as well as earn free popcorn, soda, and movie ticket rewards (rather than redeeming points, you get a reward as you reach each tier).  Click here to see the rewards schedule and sign up.

While not all deals are for everyone, I expect that participating in some of these deals has gotten on your to-do list, maybe next to repotting the plants and visiting local museums.  Good luck!

A Peek into My Wallet, Part I

There is no right credit card for everyone – the best credit card for you will depend on how much you generally spend each month, the type of purchases you make, and what benefits are most relevant to you.  While you should definitely review other credit cards if you are looking for a new one (I found Ask Mr CreditCard to be a great place to start), here are the ones I have and why they work for me:

United Mileage Plus Student Visa – This was my first credit card.  I got it in college, and apparently it is not offered anymore.  There is no annual fee, but it only gives me one mile for every $2, half of what is given by most standard airline credit cards.  Because it is my oldest credit card, though, I still keep it to maintain my credit score, and have a monthly automatic payment for my cable bill set to it so that there is always activity on it and Chase does not close my account.

Citi Gold/ AAdvantage World MasterCard – I got this card to replace the United Visa as my primary credit card.  There is a $50 annual fee, but it gives me 1 mile per $1 I spend, so as long as I spend at least $5,000 per year, the annual fee is justified.  (The math: Considering the general standard conversion of 1 mile to 2 cents, I need to earn at least an extra 2,500 miles on this credit card every year to recuperate the $50 cost over the alternative, my United Visa card.  And if I spend $5,000 per year, I will earn 5,000 miles on American, or 2,500 more than I would have earned on United if I used my Visa card.)  And as a cardholder, I can also redeem miles at lower rates for certain domestic flights – 20,000 miles instead of the normal 25,000.

If you are interested in this card, or any other airline card, I suggest you sign up for the airline program first and wait for credit card offers to come in the mail (or at least that was the case during the better economic times).  Once I decided to get this credit card, I started checking my mail for better deals, and after 2 months I got one – it had the same terms and conditions as the offer available online, including the annual fee waiver for the first year, but with a bonus 25,000 miles for signing up (versus the 15,000 offer online)!

Discover More Credit Card – This Discover card is a really good deal as a secondary credit card.  It gives only up to 1% cash back on regular purchases – less than my Citi/American Airlines card, which, given the conversion rate, effectively gives me 2% – and is not accepted in all places, making it not-so-great to have as your sole/ primary credit card.  But every quarter it offers 5% cash back bonuses for certain purchase categories, and every so often there might be other bonuses too.  In the quarter ending this month, for example, this Discover card was giving a 5% cash back bonus on home improvement stores, department stores, and clothing stores, not to mention the bonus for restaurants in June I wrote about a few weeks ago.  And July to September, you can get a 5% cash back bonus on purchases (up to $300) at gas stations, hotels, theme parks, zoos, and bookstores.  That’s an extra $15 – not that much, but much better than the $3 you would get for spending $300 on a 1% cash back card.

5% cash back is probably one of the best deals on credit cards out there.  Having this Discover card as your secondary card, you should always remember to use it for purchases eligible for bonuses (remembering to check them every quarter), but go ahead and use your primary card for everything else (provided it gives you 1% or more in cash back).