Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Twilight of the Suntrust Delta Debit Card- Maximizing the Next Few Weeks

As I've discussed before, Suntrust Bank is hobbling its Delta Debit Card on July 25th.  Currently the card earns unlimited Skymiles at a rate of 1 Skymile per dollar spent (on both signature and PIN transactions).  Though the card has not been available to new members for quite a while, there are still a fair number of legacy members out there, yours truly among them.  Many of us have intentionally limited our spending on the Card in hopes of reducing the chances of an account closure.  Since the Card is shortly going to be much less valuable, the gloves are coming off.  But that raises a question: How to get the most money into (so as to be able to get it out of) my Suntrust account?

Because Suntrust has a limited footprint of branches, many folks who have the Delta Debit Card may not have a Suntrust branch in their hometown.  This eliminates the possibility of in-person deposits.  So, what are the alternatives?  Here's a rundown of the easy ways:

1.  The Suntrust App: Like everybody else, Suntrust has an app that will allow you to do online banking, including Mobile Deposits.  It does have some limits, though.  The maximum deposit is $2,0000, and the Limit on Mobile Deposits is $8,000.00 per month.

2.  The Amex Bluebird:  You can link your Suntrust Checking Account to Amex Bluebird and withdraw Bluebird loads into your account.  The limit here on the Bluebird side of things.  You can load your Bluebird with up to $5,000.00 per month and transfer that into Suntrust.  If you have access to another Bluebird Account, you can transfer $2,500.00 from that account into your Bluebird account, increasing the funds available for transfer into Suntrust to $7,500.00

3.  Suntrust External Transfers.  Login to your Suntrust Account and to to this tab:

That will take you to the External Transfer option  (1) where you can link (2) an existing checking account at your local bank to your Suntrust account.

"Incoming" external transfers, i.e. from your account at another bank to your Suntrust account, are limited to $10,000 per day and $20,000 per rolling 30 day period.

That gives you a total $33,000 per month that can easily be transferred into a Suntrust Checking Account (and spent to earn Skymiles) without ever visiting a branch.  What?  That's not enough to wring out of Suntrust in the remaining days before July 25?  Okay, there's a final option. 

Good luck!
UPDATE:  Commenter "USFishin" on Flyertalk pointed out something I overlooked.  It may also be possible to initiate transfers from your local bank into your Suntrust Account.  Because this would not be initiated from Suntrust's website, Suntrust's external transfer limits wouldn't apply.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Current State of Manufactured Spending

With the impending demise of the Delta Suntrust Card golden goose, this seems like a good time for a  few words about the current state of the manufactured spending pastime.  If you're reading this, you likely know that Manufactured Spending ("MSing") has long been a good way to meet initial spend requirements for new credit card signups and as a way to directly generate miles and points.

Some of the best MSing opportunities have passed us by.  Please doff your caps for a moment as we reflect on the US Mint Direct Ship Program, Amazon Payments, Square Cash, Vanilla Reloads at Office Depot, unlimited Vanilla Visa purchases at CVS, and our other dearly departed MS methods.  <wipes away tear>  Now, where were we?  Ah yes, the current state of the hobby.

There are still some pretty good MS methods out there.  The single best is the Amex giftcard > Prepaid Debit Card > Money Order cycle.  American Express sells gift cards, up to $2,000 in value, that can be used almost anywhere Amex is accepted.  Amex also allows the option of personalizing the gift cards with your name.  I would highly recommend using this option.  Those gift cards can then be used to purchase prepaid debit cards that are, in turn, used to purchase money orders.  The cycle looks like this:

This method allows the user to generate a reasonable amount of spending without incurring an equivalent amount of debt.  It does entail fees, though.  Specifically at stage one the user will incur a purchase fee of $3.95 per $2,000 Amex gift card.  The user will also incur a shipping fee, unless he opts to purchase a year of free shipping from Amex for $99.  Then, at stage two, the user will incur a purchase fee for the Visa/MC prepaid debit card (typically $4.95-$5.95 per $500 card).  Finally, at stage three, the user will incur a money order purchase fee (typically $0.69-$0.99 per $500 in value).  These purchase fees, alone, total around $26.51 per $2,000 in manufactured spend (a rate of approx. 1.3% of the amount of spend manufactured).  Thus, this method could be equated to purchasing miles or points at a rate of 1.3CPP (assuming you are using a card that earns 1 point per dollar spent).  That's not a bad rate, particularly if you only need to spend a few thousand dollars for an initial spending requirement.

However, it gets better.  At the time of writing, many shopping portals pay a rebate on purchases of Amex Gift cards.  For instance, my favorite shopping portal, Topcashback, currently offers a rebate of 1.5% on the purchase of Amex gift cards.  By clicking through their website before you purchase, you can earn a rebate that will offset the fees that I've described above.  Of course, there is still the opportunity cost of the time it takes one to purchase the debit cards and money orders.

So, how does one go about it?  Well, there's a lot of information in this Flyertalk thread.  CVS still sells various forms of Vanilla prepaid debit cards that can be loaded with up to $500.  There is currently a limit of $2,000 worth of cards per rolling 24 hour period.  This limit is enforced by a scanning (and presumably recording) drivers license information.  Vanilla cards are very easy to use because they activate instantly and the PIN is set by entering any four digits the first time you use the card.  Thus, one could order a $2,000 Amex Gift card and take it to CVS to purchase 4 variable load Vanilla debit cards, paying $4.95 to load each one (determining the amount to load on each card is left as an exercise for the reader).  One would then open the Vanilla debit cards, take them to a grocery store that sells money orders (such as Winn-Dixie or Publix), purchase money orders with the Vanilla debit cards, and deposit the money orders in one's own bank account.

CAVEAT EMPTOR:  This is not a foolproof method and things could go wrong.  For instance, CVS could stop allowing the purchase of Vanilla cards with a credit card.  Or Western Union or Moneygram (the two larges money order companies) could forbid the purchase of MOs with debit cards.  Or Congress could repeal Dodd-Frank or the Durbin ammendment (which made PIN-based prepaid debit card transactions possible).  That's a good reason not to purchase more Amex Gift Cards than you can easily liquidate.  It's also a terrible, no-good, bad, bad, bad, idea to engage in any manufactured spending unless you pay your credit card bills off, in full, every month.  Carrying a balance, and paying the ruinous interest rates that entails, means that any miles you earned would be far, far too expensive.

Not all "Glitches" are Fair Game: Choice Hotels Brings the Hammer Down on a Scammer

In today's news is a story about a points enthusiast who went a bit too far.  From the ABA Journal:

Suit accuses Florida man of exploiting glitch in hotel rewards program

In this case a member of the Choice Hotels's "Choice Privileges" program noticed that the Choice Privileges website was awarding points for reservations made, but later cancelled.  Now, if this had simply been a "Bank Error in Your Favor" sort of situation, I'd argue that the man had done nothing wrong and had little duty to see the error corrected.  That is to say, if he'd simply noticed an extra few thousand points in his account I wouldn't expect him to go to great lengths to make sure Choice clawed them back.

However, that's not what happened here.  It is alleged that the gentleman (Ed: is that the term you're going with?) made hundreds of reservations and subsequently cancelled them.  Then he cashed out the points for gift cards, resulting in an easily calculable financial loss to Choice.  I'm all for gaming the system and exploiting every rule to your advantage.  Banks and travel companies write the rules that govern the points and miles world, so I can't weep for them when savvy customers discover ways to exploit them.   The problem is that in this case the customer went outside the rules.  

As Choice pointed out in its suit: “Frequent-stay programs are common throughout the industry, and neither Choice nor its competitors offer rewards for frequent reservations.”  By making reservations with intent to cancel and earn points to which he was not entitled, it seems that the defendant in this suit has unclean hands.  Although, I do note that the defendant is quoted as saying "I stayed at over 1,100 Choice hotels in the last five years," so perhaps he's already been punished enough.

P.S.:  The Tampa Bay Times story linked above closes with an anecdote regarding "The Pudding Guy" of points and miles fame, citing his story as example of "consumers who jump at the chance to take a promotion to the extreme."  The analogy is rather poor, though.  The Pudding Guy's story is wonderful: he lived up to the highest ideals of our hobby by finding a deal and exploited it to the Nth degree, but all within the letter of the rules.  Moroever, the Pudding Guy proved to be a real mensch, donating 12,150 cups of chocolate pudding to the homeless.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

New Credit Cards and Your Credit Score

Occasionally, I get asked "don't all those new cards kill your credit score?"  The answer is "not really."  Gary over at View From The Wing has a very good post that explains it all.

Basically, a new application that results in your credit report being "pulled" will cause a temporary drop in your credit score (usually less than 10 points).  However, getting approved for a new card might actually raise your score by decreasing your credit utilization level.  My score is comfortably over 800 despite having applied for and received around six new cards in the last year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Suntrust Sunsets Unlimited Earning on the Delta Debit Card

As I've written about before, my Suntrust Delta Debit card has been a fantastic source of miles over the past few years, netting Mrs. Pointsninja and I close to well over half a million miles.  However, it has recently been reported on Flyertalk and elsewhere that Suntrust is altering the deal:

Well, I got the dreaded letter today.  As of July 25, 2015, Suntrust is hamstringing the card, limiting monthly mileage earning to 2,000 miles.  To add insult to injury, the earn rate is dropping from 1 Skymile per $1 spent to 1 Skymile per $2 spent.  PLUS, the annual fee is going up to $95.

This means that in a best case manufactured spend scenario, the card could earn 24,000 miles in a year at a cost of $128.12.  That's .5CPM, a good (Ed.: But not great!) price for Skymiles.  So I may not cancel the card, but the thrill is gone.  Sigh.

P.S.:  The one conceivable upside is that this handicapping could possibly result in the Suntrust Delta Debit Card becoming available to new cardholders sometime after July 25.  Even at the reduced rates, there are people for whom this product could be useful.  Particularly if Suntrust offered a sign-up bonus as a sweetener.  The only evidence I have to support this pie-in-the-sky scenario is that Suntrust didn't kill the card entirely, which I have long expected them to do.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

REVIEW: American Express Centurion Lounge, Dallas-Fort Worth Int'l (DFW)

The unquestionable highlight of making an extended connection at DFW was the opportunity to visit American Express' Centurion Lounge:

Access to the Centurion Lounge is complimentary for Amex Centurion and Platinum cardmembers (who may bring along two guests).  Other Amex cardmembers may purchase entry for $50.  However, there are some reports that paid entry isn't offered at peak demand times or when the lounge is near capacity.

The Lounge is located on the second level of Terminal D at the top of an escalator

At the far end of the lounge there is a open bar and seating area.  They have a number of specialty cocktails.  I can recommend the George and Ginger.

They also have a limited beer selection with some very good local microbrews.  Or you can get Lionel Hutz' favorite beverage... bourbon.

The lounge also features a buffet with some pretty good eats.  I was especially fond of the goat cheese and kale salad.

If you're coming off of a longhaul flight, you may appreciate the fact that the lounge features private shower rooms with L'Occitane toiletries.  These are located down the hall from the front desk and can be reserved when you check in.

The Exhale Spa is also located down the hall behind the entry desk.  Complimentary 15 minute treatments can be scheduled at check in.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Delta's New Economy Seating Chart - Satire

The Cooper Review has a great article on Delta's seating chart (with a handy diagram!)

Stick with me and you can avoid the "Satan's Den Economy" section.