Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tracking my snowflake money

Love getting money in my mailbox!--though only a little bit is a snowflake, the rest is reimbursement

The term "snowflake money" has different meanings to different folks, but, at its simplest, is just extra money.
This year I've decided to keep track of my snowflakes, with a goal of earning $800-$1,000. I think this is a great way to save up money for travel/future expenses OR pay off debt (as is commonly associated with snowflakes).

Here's what I consider "snowflakes" and what I'm doing to earn them:
  • Rebate overages--I previously mentioned I buy free after rebate items at Staples to help meet minimum spends and how you can often combine with a coupon to make the deal a "moneymaker" or MM. Here's the post explaining Staples rebates and here's a post with an example of a moneymaker. So, I only consider the MM amount or overage part of my snowflake. The rest goes to paying off the credit card bill when due.
  • Bank deals--last year I signed up for a couple new bank accounts to get cash bonuses (ie Chase's checking promo). I plan to do at least two this year as well. Only drawback is that the bonus is reported as interest--thus I'll get a 1099.
  • Amazon selling--recently I dipped my feet into the Amazon Seller world and have listed and sold a few items. I'm selling those free after rebate items (see above) and other things around the house I don't need. This has the added benefit of helping me declutter as well. The drawbacks are packing/shipping fees and that Amazon takes a chunk of your profit.
  • Free money promos--last year I made a few bucks from signing up for some prepaid cards (Visa Buxx, Amex Serve, Amex Prepaid), and I won a gift card. I'm hoping I'll find similar deals this year.

What I don't consider snowflakes, but others might
  • Credit card sign ups for miles/points bonuses--since I don't take the cash back option, I can't exactly convert these bonuses to money to deposit in my bank account. Besides, the point of those bonuses is to travel for cheap!
  • Cash/gift cards from friends/family--I like to spend cash/gift cards to splurge on things I wouldn't normally buy for myself.
  • Statement credits--Such as Amex Twitter/Facebook/Foursquare promos and Small Business Saturday, again not really cold hard cash that I can deposit in the bank.

Now that you know how I define snowflakes, here's how I did in January
Amazon sales $22.33
Duracell rebate gift card $25 (bought $100 worth of free batteries from Staples)
Staples MM $5.99
Total $53.32
YTD: $53.32

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"I'm considering canceling my card because of the annual fee"

Not my actual card--in case you were wondering
So just about a year ago, I got into the whole points/miles and credit card churning game. The first card I opened was the Citibank AAdvantage Gold Visa using a targeted offer that I got in the mail. Well, this card has a $50 annual fee and that fee was coming due soon, so it was time to give a call to the good old Citibank retention department to see if they would waive it. Of course, I was perfectly willing to follow through on the cancellation should they have declined as I haven't been using the card much.

So I called 800-444-2568 and after giving my account number and verifying my info I say, "I'm considering canceling my card because of the annual fee, and I wanted to see if there was anything you could do about the fee before I cancel it."

The CSR says they'd hate to lose me as a customer. "Well, I can't waive the fee, but I do have an offer you might like." She then offers me a $50 statement credit and a bonus of 750 miles (basically 2x miles) in any or every month that I spend $750 for the next 16 months.

I tell her that does sound pretty good, but I was wondering if there were any other offers.

She says yes, one more, but it's not as good--$50 statement credit for making five purchases in the next three months.

I agree that the first offer is better, confirm that I'm taking it and we're all set!

Basically, while a $50 statement credit isn't exactly waiving the fee as per Citibank, it's close enough for me. The CSR said the credit may take 1-2 billing cycles to post, so I should pay the fee when it's due. As for the bonus miles, I don't use this card much anymore, however, I may be able to shift some spending to it during the months I'm not trying to meet a minimum spend on another card.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

2,013-point new member bonus for Priority Club Dining

Now that you (might) need more Priority Club points for those free hotel stays this year, this is a perfect opportunity to sign up for the dining program while there is an increased new member bonus of 2,013 points instead of the usual 1,000 points. In addition to the new member bonus, as an online member you get 5 Priority Club points per dollar spent at participating restaurants. Then once you have 12 qualified transaction in the calendar year, you are considered an elite member and will receive 8 points per dollar. This is on top of whatever points/miles you're getting from the issuer of your credit card (Chase, Citi, AMEX, etc).

Here's some of the fine print:
This bonus offer is open to new Priority Club® Dining members or existing members without a dining profile at the time of registration. A dining profile includes creating a web login and opting in and remaining opted in to receive emails from Priority Club® Dining with a valid, deliverable email address. To qualify, your profile must originate through one of the links on this page and be completed by February 28, 2013. You must continue to satisfy other Online and/or Elite Member level criteria to earn this bonus. To earn this bonus, you must spend a total of $40 or more (including tax and tip) in one dine at a participating restaurant, bar or club within 30 days from the day of your registration. You must also submit a dining review within 30 days of dining.

So basically you:
  • Sign up for the program (this requires registering the credit card(s) you plan to use while dining out)
  • Spend $40 or more at a participating restaurant, bar or club within 30 days of registering (can't spend $40 on a single meal? buy a gift card!)
  • Then submit a review of your dine within 30 days (they'll email you a link to complete the review)
  • Get points!

Most of the major airlines and hotel programs have their own dining programs with sign up bonuses, so watch out for limited time new member bonuses like this that are larger than usual. I'm already enrolled with the dining program for Priority Club (and American Airlines), so I can't take advantage of this offer. I'm waiting for an increased new member bonus to show up for United or Southwest!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Starwood (SPG) and Priority Club update award redemption values

It’s a bad day in the world of hotel point redemptions, with two popular chains announcing some major devaluations. I know #firstworldproblems, right? Anyhow, if you’re planning any free or cheap hotel stays, take heed, as it may take more points to do so this year.


Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) has announced that the Cash & Points redemptions will change starting March 5
According to this page, changes will include:
  • Adding the ability to redeem for upgraded rooms such as suites, Club Rooms, Smart Rooms, and rooms with a view, where available.
  • Adding all Category 1 and 2 destinations worldwide.
  • Updating pricing for standard room redemption, with the intention of expanded availability.
Here's the new chart that takes effect on March 5, 2013.

Until then, you can book standard rooms at the current rates. Here's the current cash & points chart:

And a Starwood rep also posted on Flyertalk that the annual category changes will take place in early March. The rep estimates the list will be finalized in mid-Februrary and that they will post it on FT as soon as it’s available

Priority Club Rewards

A few weeks ago, Priority Club Rewards announced they’d be making some changes to the number of points required to redeem a reward night at IHG hotels. According to a Jan. 7 post from a PCR rep on Flyertalk, less than 30 percent of their hotels would be increasing and 30 percent of the hotels would be lower. Well, those changes took effect today.

Previously points were based on brand tiers so a lower-end property like Candlewood Suites was either 15,000 or 20,000 points no matter where it was (even in an expensive place like Times Square NYC) while a higher-end hotel like Intercontinental was either 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000 points. Now, the hotels are categorized regardless of brand by a nine category tier (that Candlewood in NYC is now 35,000 points).

As expected, many redemptions in the central areas of major world cities went up and many redemptions of hotels in outlying areas went down. One hotel that I have my eye on for this year went down from 25,000 to 20,000, which is good news for me.

Here’s the new chart

If you’re wondering whether a property you’re planning a stay went up or down, Loyalty Lobby has a list of the old points redemptions here. If the hotel that you originally planned to book now requires more points, you can call the Priority Club Service Center until March 18 to reserve your reward night at the original point price.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

1,000 Southwest Rapid Reward points for filing with TurboTax

It's that time of year again--tax time.

I got an email from Southwest that says you can earn Rapid Rewards Points for filing your taxes with TurboTax Online. File your 2012 tax return with any TurboTax Online Federal product (even the free one!) by April 15, 2013 and earn 1,000 points. You'll need to log in to Rapid Rewards shopping and click thru to TurboTax.

According to the fine print, 2012 TurboTax Online Federal Products Qualifying for 1,000 Rapid Rewards Points are TurboTax Online Federal Free, Basic, Deluxe, Premier, and Home & Business.

Unfortunately, the free version of TurboTax doesn't cover tax schedules C, D, E, and F (required for people who own a business or have sold investments), so I probably won't take advantage of this promo since I usually file a schedule C for my freelance writing. I usually use for free federal filing and since my state has no income taxes, I never have to worry about paying for that.

1,000 free points seems like a good deal to me if you normally do your own taxes and can take advantage of the free TurboTax product or if you normally pay for one of the more advanced TurboTax online products. However, I wouldn't pay for it specifically for the 1,000 points if that's not your typical course of action.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

First mini app-o-rama...two approvals 130,000 points

Today marks the first time I have applied for more than one credit card at one time. Last year I conservatively began my journey into credit card churning for frequent flyer miles and hotel points, earning 230,000 miles/points in sign-up bonuses for opening up a total of five credit cards for the year (January, March, May, August and November). It was my initial intention to wait until February for my next "churn," but a great offer popped up and I decided not to wait.

First, I saw this post on slickdeals about a 100,000-point sign-up offer for the American Express Platinum card, and then I followed up for more information on flyertalk. Well, the $450 annual fee (not waived) for the Amex Platinum seemed a bit steep to me and I didn't think I'd really take advantage of all of the card's perks. 100,000 Amex points (great for transferring to hotel and airline programs) was tempting, but ultimately, I decided to go with the Premier Rewards Gold for 50,000 points and the first year $175 fee waived. Of course, I will cancel the card before year two rolls around. I do have to spend $1,000 in three months, which should be no trouble. This regular public offer for the PRG is 25,000 points, so this is double the points, which is why I jumped on it. The card's benefits include:
  • 3 points per $ on airfare
  • 2 points per $ on gas and groceries
  • 1 point per $ on all other purchases
  • Get an additional 15,000 points for spending $30,000 in one year
  • Other Amex benefits such as roadside assistance, car rental loss & damage insurance, travel accident insurance, extended warranty
Unfortunately, I'm seeing reports on slickdeals and flyertalk the Amex offer might be dead, so that's precisely why it's important to jump on good deals quickly.

Then, I pulled the trigger on the 80,000-point Priority Club Select Visa using a link from flyertalk. Again, this bonus requires spending $1,000 in three months. I was a little surprised to get instant approval for this since I have a fair number of Chase cards, but I guess the odds were in my favor today. The annual fee of $49 is waived for the first year, but many think this card is worth keeping beyond the first year because you get a free night every year, which can be worth a lot more than $49 if you choose a top-dollar property. Other benefits include:
  • 5 points per $ spent at IHG hotels
  • 2 points per $ spent on gas,groceries and restaurants
  • 1 point per $ on everything else
  • 10% points rebate on any redemptions
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Platinum elite status
I am looking forward to some free/cheap hotel stays in Europe this year with my 130,000 points!