Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An Explosive Weekend - Ethical Duties of Hotels

So, this weekend Mrs. Pointsninja and I had an unusual experience at a hotel.  In Birmingham for a concert, we stayed at a hotel near UAB.  After the show, we walked back to the hotel, across the street from the UAB Hospital Emergency Room.  As we walked in, we noticed that there was a single police vehicle in the street with its emergency lights on.

Shortly after we reached our room (which faced the street), we noticed that several more police cars had arrived and officers had stopped traffic.  As we watched, an ambulance pulled up and parked in the middle of the street.  Curiously, it just stayed there.

I went downstairs and asked a police officer what was going on.  She "wasn't authorized to say", but did say that they were asking people to stay away from their windows.  That raised two threat possibilities in my mind: 1) active shooter, or 2) explosives.  Since none of the officers were taking cover or looking in any particular direction, an active shooter situation seemed unlikely.  Eventually, I was able to learn that there was a person "with a bomb attached to their leg" in the ambulance.  Turns out it was this guy:

AL.com Article  about Man with Grenade Lodged in Thigh
Daily Mail Story (Typically Alarmist, Gets the Facts Wrong)

While I was standing in the lobby, the hotel staff was discussing what they should do about the request to keep people away from the windows.  The dilemma was this: the people looking out the windows were awake, but (this being after midnight) many other guests would be asleep.  So, what to do?  Call every room?  Start knocking on doors?  Eventually a manager came down and quickly decided what the hotel would do.  And what did they decide to do? Nothing.

Since the "bomb" was actually a non-explosive practice grenade, this turned out to be the right call.  Waking people up to tell them about the threat would have alarmed them and probably would have resulted in guests leaving/checking out (at least one group did so while I was downstairs).  BUT neither the manager nor the front desk staff knew that the threat wasn't real at the time.  Should they have risked notifying their guests?

Maybe the reasonableness of the manager's decision is reflected by what I did.  What did I do?  I went back upstairs and went to sleep in my room facing the street.  Why?  Well, the police were being officially cautious, but they weren't actually being cautious.  Officers were standing around drinking coffee and chatting out in the open.  Hospital personnel were milling about.  The street was closed to traffic, but not to pedestrians.  That's not what you do when there's a genuine threat of an explosion.  Because of that I discounted the threat and went to bed.  I can only hope that the manager's decision not to act on the police request arose from a similar thought process.

Friday, September 26, 2014

American Express - Small Business Saturday returns for 2014

I have long dubbed American Express as America's Most Generous Credit Card Company.  Amex is well-know for generous sign-up offers as well as its Sync program and for its long-running Small Business Saturday promotion.  For several years, Amex offered a $25 statement credit for making a $25 purchase with a small business that accepted American Express cards.  Last year, Amex dropped the value of the credit to a (still generous) $10 per card.  I'm delighted to say that Small Business Saturday is coming back for 2014 and it's more valuable than ever!

According to the terms and conditions for this year's SBS, each Amex card iseligible for 3 statement credits of $10 each.  Starting November 16, you'll need to register your Amex (don't forget authorized user cards!) and make 3 purchases of $10 or more at a qualifying small business.  Amex helpfully provides a Map of qualifying merchants.  I'm guessing that this promotion will run like the recent local Shop Small August promotion that offered 3 x $5 statement credits.  In that case, I was able to make three separate purchases at the same merchant for each card I had.

 Personally, I'm surprised and pleased that this year's promotion is more valuable than last year's.  I'd also like to note that Amex provides some helpful tools for small businesses to promote the event and drive sales.  This is a great opportunity for businesses to bring in customers and we've certainly seen some creative ideas for taking advantage of Amex's generosity.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Buying United Miles? Or Buying United Mugs?

View From the Wing recently posted details regarding an offer that would allow the purchase of United Miles at 1.9cpm.  Gary say's he's not a buyer at that price.  But how about at 1.86cpm?  Still no?  How about if I throw in a free personalized mug?

FTD is currently offering 1,500 United miles for any purchase.  The cheapest thing (that I can find) on their website is a personalized "I love you" mug for $14.99.  It does qualify for the 1,500 miles:
Does that tempt you, Gary?  Well, they do charge shipping, so the actual price is $27.98:

As much as I like View From the Wing, don't expect any mugs, Gary.  At 1.86cpm I'm not a buyer either! 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Club Carlson Visa- Great Card but "Meh" Bonus Points Promo

Other bloggers have covered the Club Carlson Visa Card extensively and I've previously covered it HERE, so I won't go into it in depth about the card in this post.  The signup bonus for the card is 85,000 points (approx. $4-500 value).  The card carries an annual fee of $75, but is offset by an annual 40,000 point ($200+ value) bonus on the renewal date.  The card also confers Gold status in Club Carlson's program and earns a respectable 5ppd on all spending.  Of course, as many other bloggers have noted, the card also carries one other killer benefit: the last night of any multi-night award stay is free.  For instance, I'm using the card to book two nights in a "business class" room at the Radisson Blu Zurich Airport, a booking that would ordinarily cost me around $800 or 150,000 points.  But since I have the card, it is only costing me 75,000 points. 

Club Carlson doesn't have the greatest mix of hotels, but the do have some pretty decent properties (generally Radisson Blu hotels in Europe) where you can get real value out of your points.  I'd recommend as a card to consider for anyone looking to diversify or planning a trip to Europe.  All three of the blogs on my sidebar will have links to the current best available signup offer.

All that said, I've had the card for more than a year and while I really like it, I'm consistently underwhelmed by  the promotions that US Bank (the card issuer) puts on for actually using the card for ordinary spending.  Today, I received a letter notifying me of a (targeted) bonus promising that I can "EARN 1 BONUS POINT PER DOLLAR SPEND THROUGH OCTOBER 31st."  Sounds great, right?  Well, in the smaller print, it turns out that the offer is more complicated.  You have to register first.  Then, you have to spend $2,600 dollars to trigger the additional 1ppd on the next $2,000 you spend before October 31st.  So, the bonus is really an extra 2,000 points for spending $4,600 dollars on the card.  That works out to a significantly less impressive 0.43ppd.  That's better than a kick in the teeth if you were already planning to spend that much on the card.  But if you weren't I'd hardly call it strong motivation to put nearly $5,000 spending on one card in 60 days.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Eine Kleine Götterdämmerung- Amazon Payments is Going Away

The single most lucrative manufactured spending opportunity ever was The Mint.  Many people netted millions of miles and points courtesy of the Golden Dollar boondoggle.  When The Mint shut down, it was if the world were ending.  Yet, people found new ways to meet spending requirements and earn miles cheaply.

Now word comes that we are about to lose another lucrative avenue for spending: Amazon Payments.  For years, Amazon has allowed users to make payments, up to $1,000 per month, with a credit card and has not charged a fee.  Though this wasn't an enormously lucrative opportunity, it was an extremely reliable way to meet spending requirements for new cards.  Over at One Mile at a Time, Lucky reports a change in Amazon Payments terms and conditions that signaled the demise of this opportunity, effective October 13.  This is bad news.

As Glenn Reynolds is fond of saying, "If something can't go on forever, it won't."  The free transfer option was a money loser and had to come to an end eventually.  But since no one knew when it would end, MS-oriented users had the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads for years.  Amazon Payments was a golden goose that laid reliably for years and almost no one wanted to kill it by abusing the system.  Consequently, many users refrained from having multiple accounts, sending money directly to themselves, or other practices that, being verboten under the Ts & Cs, could get their accounts shut down.  But, as Justice Marshall said, "The value of the Sword of Damocles is that it hangs - not that it drops."  This particular sword has dropped and, as a result, I predict a lot of misbehavior between now and October 13.

UPDATE:  Just reviewed the revised Terms.  This seems to be the operative language:


So, I looked at the old terms and conditions.

They provide the following with regard to personal accounts:

That's intriguing.  If I'm reading this right, personal accounts weren't supposed to be able to receive credit card payments prior to the October 13 update.  However, those with personal accounts have been able to do so.  It appears that the new language removes the right to receive any payments of any kind if you have a Personal Account.

I guess we'll have to wait until next month to see whether Amazon's coders can do what what Amazon's lawyers want done.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

EXPIRED- Delta Amex 50,000 mile offer

I'm a bit evangelistic about frequent flier miles, and often can't help butting into conversations about travel and offering advice.  Last night while waiting on a pizza, I briefly talked with a couple of folks about some of the better signup offers out there at present, one of those is Amex's current offer for the Delta Amex.  View from the Wing covers it HERE.

In short, Amex is currently offering a 50,000 Skymile signup bonus for getting their Gold Skymiles card and spending $1,000.  There's no annual fee for the first year.  The spend low enough that it could be covered either through normal spending, or you cold just knock it out with Amazon Payments.  Also noteworthy is the $50 statement credit for your first Delta Purchase.  As I mentioned HERE, that statement credit can be used to purchase a $50 Delta gift card.  So the offer is really 50,000 Skymiles + $50 in Delta Credit.

Now, this is what I consider a "dresser drawer" card.  The rewards for spending just aren't all that great at 1 Skymile per $1 spent.  Consequently, when I got this card some months ago (with the identical offer) I met the required spend, and promptly put the card away in favor of cards with better earn ratios.  Just my two cents.

UPDATE:  This deal has now expired.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Shop Small August - Miami

This is pretty brilliant:
Shop Small for Chocolate at DansDeals

A chocolate company in Miami is offering to make 3x$5 charges on each of your Amex cards to take advantage of Shop Small August.  Of course, it requires you to hand over your card numbers to a unknown merchant, so I don't think I'd recommend it.  Clever marketing all the same, as there are probably a good number of people in the audience of DansDeals that are likely to jump at the chance to get some chocolate compliments of Amex.

Note: This was a paid advertisement at DansDeals, a commercial site that promotes credit card signups, etc. I don't receive any compensation for sharing it, I just think it's clever marketing.