Get A Kindle Fire HD For Opening A New BBVA Checking Account
If cash doesn’t entice you to open a new checking account, how about a Kindle Fire HD? BBVA is currently offering the 7-inch tablets (retail for $199) to new checking account customers. In order to qualify for the free tablet, one need to open a Build-to-Order Checking with a $25 minimum deposit, have one direct deposit of at least $300 from unrelated third party within 90 days, and make three online payments of at least $50 each within 90 days. In order to avoid the account monthly charge of $10.95, an average daily balance of $1,500 is required. I prefer cash bonus so I won’t jump on it. But this is definitely one of the more interesting offers out there for new checking.
It has been a week since I received my American Express Platinum card, and I am liking the card more than I expected. Normally this is not a credit card that I would consider applying given the high annual fee, but the 100,000 Membership Rewards bonus points after $3,000 spending and the potential to travel on Singapore Airlines’ premium cabin are just too good to pass up. And the benefits that came with the card makes me want to actually keep the card beyond its first year. Below is what I like (and don’t like) about the card.
After receiving approval, the card was overnighted to me the next business day without my asking. Minimal waiting time in getting the card.
Access to American Airlines and Delta lounges when flying with same day ticket, and entry to US Airways lounges any time.
$200 in statement credits for airline incidental fees every year(can possibly be used to buy airline gift cards). Milevalue has step-by-step directions on how to accomplish this.
$100 Global Entry application fee reimbursement. I just applied for mine and am waiting to hear back. Having an expedited U.S. immigration clearance line is totally worth the one-time application.
Instant Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status. This is normally achievable after completing 10 stays or 25 nights in a year. Gold member gets 3 starpoints per dollar spend, 4pm late checkout, possible enhanced room upgrade at check-in, and welcome gift with each stay. This will certainly entice me to book Starwood properties whenever I can.
Car rental privileges with Avis, Hertz, and National.
When booking hotels through the Fine Hotels & Resorts program using Amex Platinum, members get free breakfast for two, room upgrades, 4pm late checkout, and spa credits.
No foreign transaction fee. But American Express are not widely accepted outside the U.S.
Good customer service over the phone. Phone reps were courteous and patient in my experience.
The Not So Good:
$450 annual fee, not waived the first year. But the yearly $200 airline credits and $100 Global Entry reimbursement somewhat decrease the blow.
Not aesthetically pleasing. The card feels cheap and dated despite its platinum status and high fees. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card feels much more substantial and has a more attractive design.
American Express not accepted everywhere. This makes fulfilling minimum spend requirements just a little tougher.
Chase’s $125 offer has been around for a long time, and today I finally took the bait and opened a new savings account. I could have gotten a better offer of $200 last November, but I was lazy and never took up the offer. To get the bonus, I had to deposit $10,000 of new money into Chase. During sign-up the banker told me I had to maintain the balance for six months or Chase will take the bonus away, which I interpreted as I had to maintain $10,000 for six months. But after reading over the fine prints, it seems to me the bonus will be deducted only if I close the savings account within six months. To avoid monthly fee, the account requires the minimum daily balance at or above $300. I don’t have any immediate plans to use the funds, but it’s great to know my money is not stuck for six months. The $125 bonus easily beats any interests I get from my old CDs. In addition to getting free money, I hope this will also improve my standing with Chase, as it offers the most attractive lineup of credit cards from which I will likely apply for this year.
American Express has a link for the Platinum card with 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $3,000 in three months. This is an amazing deal, as Membership Rewards points can be transferred to many airline partners, including ANA, Cathay Pacific, Singapore, Delta, British Airways, and more. One Miles At A Time has the detail on how to get this offer.
My application was instantly approved at 10:30pm. Get in while you can. Thanks Lucky!
One of the things I like about banking with Citi is the perk to earn ThankYou points by keeping an active personal checking account. I find ThankYou points to be pretty valuable when it comes to travel-related redemptions, such as booking airfares, hotel rooms or day tours. In my previous post I wrote about using TY points to book hotel rooms in Turkey is a better value than getting cash or statements credit because it takes almost twice the points to get the equivalent amount of cash. In my upcoming trip to Taiwan in April, I will have an overnight layover in Seoul, and again I used 9,600 TY points to book a local transit hotel in Inchon to sleep for the night.
Citi currently has five levels of personal checking accounts, and the best thing is all five products earn TY points every month under the right condition. I currently have the Citibank Account (no fee with minimum balance) with direct deposit, a savings account, and do at least one online bill-pay every month. At the end of every month I am earning 925 TY points, which means by the end of the year I will have 11,100 TY points to spend on travel. This is a pretty good deal considering it doesn’t cost me a dime and require zero effort to get the points. 11,000 TY points can translate to a night in a 3-star hotel room in many cities.
Choosing which credit card to use has normally been an easy decision for me. For the past six months, my go-to card has been the Chase Sapphire Preferred. It’s one of two cards that I carry in my wallet (the other card is rotated periodically). But with the arrival of three new credit cards (Chase Freedom, Citi AAdvantage Visa and American Express), each with its own minimum spend requirement, my normally skinny wallet has gotten a lot thicker and my credit card usage routine has gotten trickier. Fortunately, I was able to complete the spending requirements for the Chase Freedom ($1,000 in three months) and Citi AA Visa ($2,500 in four months) during the first month due to a series of reimbursable expenses. The remaining card, Citi AAdvantage American Express, has a $5,000 spending requirement to get the full sign-up bonus.
This month a new reimbursable expense opportunity came up. I was notified that my proposal for a travel grant was accepted and I was awarded $1,225 to attend the RBMS (Rare Books and Manuscripts Section) Preconference in Minneapolis in June 2013. The money has to cover my airfare to/from LAX, three nights of hotel (hopefully upscale) in downtown Minneapolis, and the conference registration cost of $325. Even though the conference is still six months away, my inner travel-agent just couldn’t wait to make flight and hotel arrangements.
Sun Country and Delta both offered the most convenience by flying non-stop for around $400 at the time of search. But since both airlines don’t offer high value on their frequent fliers miles, I skipped them to check out other options. United and American both offer flights with one connection to MSP at around the same price. I chose an United red-eye flight via Chicago that would get me to Minneapolis on the opening day of the conference.
And this is where things got a little complicated: which credit card to use? My most obvious card of choice was the Citi AAdvantage American Express because of the minimum spend that I had to make, but I wasn’t crazy about getting only one mile per dollar by using the Amex, versus using my Chase Sapphire Preferred (two points per dollar on travel), United MileagePlus Explorer (two miles per dollar plus United benefits), or Chase Freedom (5% quarterly bonus on airfares). Eventually I went with United MileagePlus Explorer for the 2x miles, one free checked bag, and priority boarding benefits. Even with Freedom’s 5% reward of 2,000 Ultimate Rewards points, saving $50 on checked bag trumps the bonus UR points.
My first hotel choice was to stay at the RBMS conference hotel Marriott City Center, but the conference rate of $174 per night before taxes would have busted my budget by a lot. A quick look on hotels.com shows that the average 4-star hotels go for around $250 to $350 a night. Eventually I did find a prepaid rate of $140 for Kimpton’s Grand Hotel Minneapolis. To keep my plans flexible, I was able to find the same rate on Kimpton’s website and a direct reservation was made. I will probably use the AA Amex for this one.
Conference Registration: $325
I plan on using my AA AmEx to pay for the registration cost.
Total conference cost: $1,218
In the end I was able to stay within budget with a total of $1218, $7 under my budget of $1225. I didn’t get to use my AA Amex as much as I like, but it’s always nice to have an arsenal of credit cards to pick and choose what works best for me. Fulfilling large sums of minimum spend requirements did seem daunting at first, but there are always creative ways to get it done, such as paying for property taxes with a credit card (2-3% fee), book travel arrangements for friends and families, utilize Bluebird and prepaid cards when feasible, and never use cash when cards are accepted.
Before I started to seriously collect airline miles and hotel points ten months ago, my main point collection consists solely of Citibank’s ThankYou points from credit card spending and bank account. The points weren’t much, but they added up after a few years. I never did much with them, except for the occasional $100 cash back when I wanted to make big purchases like a computer or a new iPhone. And as I got into collecting United Miles and Chase Ultimate Rewards points, I pretty much forgot about my ThankYou points holding. It wasn’t till last week when I was searching for hotels in Turkey that I realized a good use of those points. I guess I have always known in the back of my head that ThankYou points can be used to book airfares and hotel reservations, but for some reason I have never tried to redeem them.
My plan was to book a total of eight nights of hotels in Istanbul (five nights) and Izmir (three nights) in November, in addition to a night at Radisson Blu Conference & Airport Hotel (38,000 Club Carlson points) and cash booking in a cave hotel in Cappadocia. November is consider low season in Istanbul so the options were plentiful and inexpensive. I was able to pick out a few 3-4 star hotels — central location and breakfast and WiFi included — that got great reviews on TripAdvisor. Since I am traveling solo, my goal was to get a good room with the aforementioned features for around $50 a night.
Next, I logged into ThankYou.com’s Travel Center to look for comparable hotels. After inputing my location and dates, the result page showed a grid and a list of 2-to-5 star hotel rooms, ranging from the cheapest (in points) to expensive. I was disappointed to see that none of my pre-selected hotels were displayed in the first few (cheap) pages. So I did some more research and, luckily, I was able to find a highly rated local 3-star hotel with the features that I wanted for around 24,000 ThankYou points. I more or less followed the same steps for Izmir and found a promising 4-star hotel for around 20,000 for three nights. I booked all eight nights of hotels with ThankYou’s Travel Center using a little more than 44,000 points. If I had booked on Hotels.com the total would be around $420. After booking I still had about 10,000 ThankYou points left in my account.
Overall I would say ThankYou.com’s hotel selections does not equate to popular travel sites. In fact, some of the hotels in cheaper categories that I looked up got atrocious reviews from TripAdvisor. But if you are willing to spend a little more time researching, there are good bargains to be found. As of this writing, the rate for cash redemption using ThankYou points is 10,000 points for $50. So to get equivalent amount of cash for my hotel bookings I would need to use 84,000 ThankYou points. Be aware that if you need to cancel or rebook your reservation, ThankYou.com charges a $25 fee or more.
Ask a random person on the street about what is the best credit card out there, the answer is probably the one in his or her wallet. For some, cards without annual fees will do just fine. For others, it may be low interest rates, or cards that offer cash back bonuses. Business travelers are often loyal to their airline-branded cards of choice. As a travel-minded person, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is my go-to card for everyday use and traveling. Let me just say right off the bat that the card does charge an annual fee to use, which is $95 (first year waived). Other than that, the card is pretty much perfect.
What makes Chase Sapphire Preferred my favorite credit card:
No foreign transaction fees — A must-have feature for international travelers.
Chase Ultimate Rewards — Arguably one of the best and flexible credit card reward programs out there. Points can be transferred 1:1 to many airline and hotel programs, such as United MileagePlus, Southwest Airlines, Marriott Rewards, and Hyatt Gold Passport. Points can also be redeemed for cash, travel, and merchandise.
2X points on travel — Get 2X points on airfares, hotels, cruises, and rental cars.
2X points on dining — Twice the points at restaurants, including fast food joints. 1 point on all other purchases.
7% annual point on travel — At the end of each year, Chase will automatically award cardholders a 7% annual points dividend on all points earned on purchases for the year.
Great customer support — Dial the 800 number and a live telephone support person picks up. No more speaking to a machine.
A card that stands out — Made of metal material, the card is got heft. I often get complements from cashiers.
Using United MileagePlus as my primary frequent flyer account, the ability to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to United on a 1:1 basis and earn double points on travel and dining makes the Chase Sapphire Preferred the one card that I carry and use everywhere. The earning potential is even greater than Chase’s United Airlines-branded card, which does not offer category bonuses except for United purchases. The current sign-up offer of 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points after $3,000 spending in three months is a great boost to anyone’s mileage holding.
Any self-respecting traveler should have a credit card that earns miles or points on everyday spendings, such as paying for grocery, gas, utilities, and dining out. The miles you earn per transaction might seem minuscule, but after a few months you will notice those miles adding up to a sizable pile. Miles from your everyday spending should be an integral part of your award ticket strategy, in combination with credit card sign-up bonuses and miles earned from flying.
What many casual miles collectors don’t realize is that they could earn hundreds of extra miles every year from some of their restaurant bills by enrolling in frequent diners programs. The programs are free to join, and all it takes is to register one or more of your credit cards that you use for everyday purchases. When you happen to eat at one of the participating restaurants, you will earn 3-5 miles per dollar spent, on top of what you normally earn from your credit cards. The earned miles takes about 10 days to post, and they are directly linked to your frequent fliers account. In exchange you will receive marketing emails on participating restaurants in your local area.
The frequent diners programs are operated by the marketing firm Rewards Network. They are currently in contract with American, Delta, United, US Airways, Southwest, and Alaska. You can join one or all of the programs, as long as a different credit card is used for each. Note that you won’t be able to double-dip on miles by registering one credit card to two or more programs. It is probably easier to just pick an airline program that you use or value the most, register all your everyday spend credit cards with it, and just forget about it. If you dine out frequently, chances are you will probably hit one of the participating restaurants periodically. In a few days after the visit you will get an email detailing the dollars spent at the restaurant and the miles earned. You can also search for participating restaurants in your area to see if your favorite places to eat are on the list. This is a great tool to earn extra miles and to ensure that your frequent fliers miles don’t expire for lack of activities.
Over the weekend I spent a few hours reading up on Turkey and looking into how to get around within the country. Our plan is to travel in November from Istanbul to Kayseri to Izmir and back to Istanbul in a two-week period. The total distance between the three cities is about 1,042 miles. We have the options of taking overnight buses and/or flying. The first option is obviously more budget-friendly. Riding in overnight buses also means we can save on two or three nights of hotels by sleeping in coaches. However, some of the routes I looked into were not direct and require one or more connections, and the thought of sleeping and not showering on a night bus pushed me to look harder into the second option. I went to Hipmunk and was surprised to find some of the airfares were downright murderous.
Book through Hipmunk’s Links: Total $885
Istanbul to Kayseri: $275 on Turkish Airlines
Kayseri to Izmir (via Istanbul): $542 on Turkish Airlines
Izmir to Istanbul: $68 on Turkish Airlines
For three relatively short one-way flights, $885 is a lot more than what I paid for flying from LAX to Istanbul. But I was not about to give up. I searched in Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree travel forum to look for transportation advice. From there I was able to learn about SunExpress, a budget airline co-owned by Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa that operates many flights within Turkey. I did the same searches on both SunExpress and Turkish Airlines’ websites, and the results were spectacular.
Book through Turkish Airlines and SunExpress websites: Total $147
Istanbul to Kayseri: $53 on Turkish Airlines
Kayseri to Izmir: $30 on SunExpress
Izmir to Istanbul: $64 on Turkish Airlines
The price difference of $738 is incredible! Turkish Airlines’ routes and schedules were exactly the same, and SunExpress offers a direct flight between Kayseri and Izmir (for $30!), which means we did not have to connect via Istanbul. What’s even better? The total airfare cost is not much more than traveling by buses. Not only do we get to save time by flying, accumulate United miles (Turkish Airlines is part of Star Alliance), try out a new airline (SunExpress), and we will also get to shower and have a proper sleep on a hotel bed every night.
One of the great by-products of flying is the accumulation of airline miles. In the frequent fliers world, miles are a form of currency, and some people go to extraordinary lengths to collect them, such as going on mileage runs (flying solely for the purpose of collecting miles), signing up for multiple credit cards (how about 10 cards at once?), and buy things they don’t need. While some may be shocked by their seemingly irrational behaviors, miles collectors are equally baffled by those who fly but don’t have frequent fliers accounts. Even if you fly as little as one roundtrip per year, the miles can still add up to give you a free ticket in the future. And once you are more familiar with the miles game, you will begin to appreciate the benefits and thrills of collecting miles through various means.
Sign them up now and sit back and relax. Start with United, American Airlines, Delta, and US Airways so that you have all three largest passenger alliances covered (Star Alliance, oneworld, and SkyTeam). This means acquired miles can be redeemed with your preferred airline AND any partner airlines within the same alliance, and any miles flew on partner airlines can be credited to one of your four frequent fliers accounts. Use AwardWallet for easy tracking of all your miles and points accounts. If you have trouble remembering multiple account names and passwords, use 1PassWord or LastPass to simplify your life.
How to find cheap airfares is a question that I get asked a lot by friends, coworkers, and relatives. My answer to them is never simple, since airfare hunting involves multiple layers of searching, days and weeks of persistence, a flexible mindset, and a little sprinkle of luck. In short, finding cheap airfares is not about using a particular website; it is about employing a set of strategies that will give you the best chance to find the best deal.
Perhaps the biggest hinderance to finding that awesome deal to Europe or Asia is inflexibility on the searcher’s part. Finding a cheap airfare is like a treasure hunt. You can’t demand beforehand what kind of gems or stones and what quantities you will get. But with good information and extrapolation you can reasonably assume that there are treasures waiting to be discovered in a certain area. The same principle applies to finding airfares. When searching you should be flexible about your time and/or destination. Take Europe for example. Summer is considered high season and is one of the worst period for finding cheap airfares. If you don’t like the idea of paying $1,200 to fly to Paris, why not take a trip there in October or November when airfares are generally lower and the chances of finding that super deal is greater? And if nearby cities such as London or Madrid has a lower airfare, why not take the plunge and enjoy it? If you are set on going to Paris in the first week of July for ten days, I am afraid the chance of finding that cheap airfare is a lot lower.
Search Early & Often
Most of us are on the computers a lot every day. Take a few minutes everyday at work to do a few searches on airfares would ensure that you are not missing out on the latest deals, since airlines are constantly monitoring demands and adjusting pricing. Starting your search a few months before would also increase the odds of finding that amazing deal.
By monitoring daily the prices and routes you want, you are making sure you are not missing out on good deals or mistake airfares.
Do yourself a favor and bookmark or subscribe to Airfarewatchdog’s free daily airfares list. You can customize the list to show only airports near you, filter the list to include international or domestic airfares, and monitor the pricing on a specific route. This website is so useful that it is becoming a morning routine of mine to check it, and I can’t even count the number of times when I was alerted of an amazing deal from Airfarewatchdog. The website does not sell you tickets but will direct you to other online travel sites like Orbitz, Travelocity, and United.
When you are flexible on dates to travel, one of the easiest way to see which day of the month offers the cheapest airfare is using Flex Search on Orbitz. When you are on the page, use Option 3 and select the number of days you want to take a trip for. Next, you can select departure dates up to a 30-day period. When you hit Find, you will be taken to a matrix page with all the available departure dates and prices within the selected time frame. Keep in mind that Orbitz may or may not have the cheapest airfare, but the matrix offers searchers a general overview of which days are cheaper to fly. You can then use that information and do some comparison shopping on other travel sites.
In addition to Orbitz, Kayak and Hotwire both offer their versions of 30-day flex search. On Hotwire’s homepage, click on Flexible Date Search under departing date. On Kayak, click on My Dates Are Flexible under the From field.
When you have determined the cheapest date to fly, head over to Hipmunk to see an easy-to-visualize list of that day’s flying options. Search results on Hipmunk are displayed chronologically on a single page and are ranked by factors such as price, schedule, and agony (a combination of price, number of connections, and flight duration). After you have selected your departure and return preferences, the site will direct you to other travel sites to make the purchase. Airfare aggregators such as Hipmunk allow searchers to see different pricing and schedules from airline and online travel sites in one place without conducting multiple searches.
Other airfare aggregators include Kayak and Mobissimo. But I prefer using Hipmunk for its user-friendliness, easy-to-understand visualization, and the dancing hipmunk.
When you finally find that amazing deal, do not hesitate and waste time by over-thinking. Good deals are usually fleeting and won’t stick around after much dithering and inner debating. While there is always the possibility that the airfare might drop even lower, the odds of that happening is slim in my experience. When you find the right deal, just buy it, move on to the trip planning stage, and stop worrying about finding airfares.
More than ten years ago, when I turned 18, I unknowingly made the prescient choice of applying for a Capital One credit card. That very card has stayed with me ever since, and it remains one of the few credit cards that I take with me on international trips. Over the years, as I used the card responsibly by not having late payment and always paying my monthly balance in full, the card has helped in establishing and lengthening my credit history, improved my credit scores, and allowed me to receive more lucrative credit card offers since then.
The Capital One card is great for two reasons. First, it does not have an annual fee. Second, Capital One does not charge foreign exchange fees, which is great for international travelers. For the uninitiated, foreign exchange fees are extra charges tacked onto any purchases made abroad, and they typically range anywhere from one to three percent of the total purchase, depending on the card issuer. This may not sound like a lot, but after spending a few hundred dollars on hotel, restaurants, and excursions, three percent doesn’t seem so small anymore. Plus, a Card Hub study has shown that using a credit card without FEF can save travelers on average 8 to 16 percent relative to bank and airport kiosk exchange services.
My no-frills Capital One card does not compare favorably with other FEF-free premium cards that are currently on the market, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citigroup’s ThankYou Premier. But premium cards are harder to obtain by requiring higher income and longer credit history. For people who are new to credit, a Capital One card is a great starter card to have and build your credit with, and its generous FEF-free feature makes it a must-have for any international travelers.
A lot of frequent fliers blogs are devoted to showcasing their flying first class and bathing in a tub of champagne at five-star hotels in exotic locations using only miles and points. While it is hard to beat traveling in luxury without using real dollars, this formula is not workable for many travelers. What about people with bad or insufficent credits? You can pretty much forget about getting those lucrative credit card signup bonuses like the one offered by Chase Sapphire Preferred. People with limited income and without (m)any reimbursable expenses can also forget about using award miles to fly. And prospective homeowners applying for mortgages in the next few years shouldn’t even bother with new credit cards. Don’t get me wrong, miles and hotel points are wonderful tools to help fulfill your ambitions, but they are not available to everyone. The old-fashioned way of paying for travel is still the most reliable way to get you there. The trick is planning and saving for a travel budget so you can take advantage of cheap airfares when they come up.
To illustrate my points, here are some airfares (all in, roundtrip, economy) that I have paid for in the past three years:
1. $746.03 (V Australia) LAX to Sydney, non-stop in Aug. 2009.
2. $597.16 (American) LAX to Taipei, via Tokyo in Nov. 2009.
3. $419.34 (Spirit) LAX to Lima, via Ft. Lauderdale in March 2010.
4. $686.40 (U.S. Air) LAX to Dublin, via Philadelphia in Nov. 2010.
5. $1,424.99 (Delta) LAX to Buenos Aires to El Carafate, via Atlanta in Jan. 2011.
6. $502.70 (U.S. Air) LAX to Madrid, via Philadelphia in Nov. 2011.
7. $618.00 (Lufthansa) LAX to Istanbul, via Munich in Feb. 2012.
As you can see from this list, we are always on the lookout for good deals, and we are not choosy about what airlines we are on, as long as it is affordable and takes us to the destination in a reasonable fashion. Spirit Airlines may provide a less-than-comfortable flying experience for their a la carte pricing, indifferent flight attendants, long layover, and super tiny seats. But hey, did I say I paid $420 to go to Peru? Today I can still vividly recall our eating fresh ceviche in Lima and seeing Machu Picchu in person. It’s the traveling experiences that you will treasure the most, not how you get there. Likewise, once in a while I am willing to shell out big bucks to go to a place, such as the $1,424 ticket to Argentina. (That trip turned out to be a mini disaster, but more on that later.) The point is, having set aside a chunk of savings that can be used only on airfares, we are able to secure those amazing but fleeting deals without delay.
So just how much should you set aside for a travel budget? For beginners, $1,000 per person is a good starting point to cover an inexpensive airfare plus any extra expense like visa entry fees. Once you have taken care of the front matters, you can slowly save up (provided that your upcoming trip does not commence until a few months later) for the rest of the trip, such as hotel and food and excursion costs. Obviously, the more savings you can manage, the easier it gets. And when I say budget, I don’t mean $1,000 in available credit line but cold hard cash in the bank that you don’t need to use to cover daily expenses. There are certain things in life that many of us can’t escape from paying interests for, such as mortgages and student loans. As wonderful as traveling is, paying hefty credit card interest rates to cover travel costs is not worth it, and it will only take away your financial flexibility. You don’t want to be paying for your travel from 6 months ago; you want to pay for the next one.