Wednesday, December 31, 2014

This way Christmas...

Shortly, I'll begin posting trip reports from my pre-Christmas trip to visit Christmas markets in Frankfurt, Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Basel, and Zurich.  Along the way, I'll review the BA contract lounge in DFW, The Amex Centurion Lounge DFW, BA First DFW-LHR, The Avalon Vista cruise ship, the Frankfurt Intercontinental, and the Radisson Blu Zurich.  But I likely won't get to it until after the new year.  For now, in the words Humphrey Bogart in my favorite Christmas movie:

This way Christmas...

Here's hoping you all had a very Merry Christmas and that you will have a happy New Year!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Get Ready for Christmas Shopping!

Just a reminder to everyone that will be doing online shopping this year: If you don't get miles or cashback on your order, you're leaving money on the table.  Finding the best deal is particularly easy with the rise of cashback/miles comparison websites, a favorite example being

When you get ready to make a purchase, enter the store into the "Search Store" field and the site will show you what cashback or miles deals are available.  I picked Target:

Target Miles/Points offers
Target Cashback
Once you search for your store, click on the link in the results field and you'll be taken to the cashback portal.  From there you'll simply click through (after creating an account if you don't already have one) and shop as usual.  Not every store offers miles or cashback, but nearly all do.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

25,000 Pageviews!

Okay, that's nothing in absolute terms.  Many blogs get more than that per day.  Some probably get more than that per hour.  But for my humble little blog, I'm thrilled to have had 25,000 visits from fellow points and miles enthusiasts.  Thanks!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Registration for American Express' Small Business Saturday 2014 is Live!

Run, don't walk, and register your American Express card (every one you have including authorized users) HERE.  Then, on Saturday the 29th, use your card to make three purchases of at least $10 at a local small business and American Express will give you a $10 statement credit for each purchase.  You can do that three times for each of your cards.  That's $30 in free spending per Amex card!

Which businesses qualify?  Amex provides a useful MAP of qualifying businesses.  Mrs. Points Ninja and I will be restocking our wine cellar at our local bottle shop.  Thanks Amex!

UPDATE:  In my experience, statement credits post within a couple of days of the purchase.  For future reference, the Ts&Cs for the offer are:

Amex Shop Small Australia?

So, I'm a huge fan of Amex's Shop Small Saturday promotion but I thought it was a US only thing.  While looking up the registration page for the US version, I came across this.  Turns out, Aussies aren't being left out of the fun:  Australian Shop Small November

$10(Aus) off a $20 purchase and repeatable 10 times.  Not a bad deal at all if you're an Amex cardholder in Australia!

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: 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.

Friday, August 15, 2014

American Express - Shop Small August (limited markets... or is it?)

As much as I can love any credit card company, I love American Express.  Their well-known Small Business Saturday promotion was one of the most generous promotions out there for several years, offering a $25 statement credit per Amex card for purchases at small businesses on the last Saturday in November.  Though the promotion was scaled back to $10 per card last year it is still extraordinarily generous.

Amex runs similar, less known promotions throughout the year, usually focused on one town or event.  On Flyertalk, I learned that Amex is running a "Shop Small August" promotion that offers $5 statement credits for up three purchases of $5 or more at small businesses in Houston, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, or Sacramento.  Three beers per card at your local micro-brewery?  Three discounted sandwiches at your local lunch spot?  Just make sure each charge is run separately and its more free money from Amex.

One thing that Amex usually does very well is to develop useful websites to go along with their promotions.  The website for the promotion is here: Shop Small August. As of this posting, registration is still open.  So it's a no-brainer if you live in one of the featured cities.

Shop Small August
Too see where the credits are available, scroll down the page for a link to a map of qualified businesses in each city.

 Interestingly, at least some airport locations are included in the list of qualified "small businesses."  For instance, Shipley Donuts and Famous Famiglia Pizza at IAH are both included.  Bizzarely, TACA airlines also appears on the list:
I'd assume that some airport locations in MIA, SNF, and MSP might also be on the list, so if you're transiting any of those airports before the end of august, this deal might be of some use to you.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Credit Score Management

Credit card signup offers are the single easiest way to earn a large number of miles or points with little effort.  Personally, the majority of my miles come from manufactured spending, but in the past year Mrs. PointsNinja and I have gotten some really great card sign up bonuses:

  • Barclay Arrival Card -         40,000 points ($400)
  • Delta Amex -                         50,000 miles
  • United Explorer Visa -          50,000 miles
  • Lufthansa Visa -                     50,000 miles
  • AA Executive Mastercard - 100,000 miles
The key to being able to take advantage of bonuses like these is to maintain an "Excellent" credit score (generally above 760).  In talking with folks who are just getting interested in points & miles, I find that many have a misconception about the effect that new credit accounts have on their overall credit score.

Generally (Ed.: Really, really generally), your credit score is based on five factors:
  1. Your Payment History:  This is the big one, accounting for 35% of your score.  Obviously lenders are going to be interested in whether you're consistent about paying back what you owe.  Pay every month, on time, and you'll be in good shape.
  2. Credit Utilization:  This is another big one, accounting for 30% of your score.  This factor is made up of two parts.  First, the percentage of your available credit that you're currently using; i.e. if you have $100,000 in available credit across all your cards and your monthly balances amount to $25,000, you have 25% utilization.  Second, you percentage of available credit used in each individual account, i.e. a $1,000 balance of a card with a $2,000 limit is 50% utilization.
  3. The Length of Your Credit History: Now we're getting into the smaller factors.  The average age (older is better) of your accounts makes up 15% of your score.  This is a good reason to keep older cards, especially if they have no annual fee.
  4. Credit Mix: This is another small category, accounting for 10% of your score, that takes into account whether you have a mix of installment (e.g. mortgage) and revolving (e.g. credit card) accounts.
  5. New Accounts: The number of "new" (one year old or less) accounts in your credit file makes up the final 10% of your score.  These are generally tracked based on when the card issuer makes a "hard pull" of your credit file to gauge your creditworthiness.  Hard pulls generally stay on your credit file for 2 years, though they have a diminished weight as time goes on.
Applying for a new card can affect your score in several ways.  The new account can shorten the average length of your credit history and the inquiry will be appear as a "new account."  But, as a bit of an offset, the new credit line may actually decrease your credit utilization.

So what does all this mean?  Well, I'd say it means that you shouldn't be unduly worried about the effect that a new card will have on your score.  As a rule of thumb, expect that a new card application will result in a temporary (drop your score by 3-6 points.

Friday, August 8, 2014


At One Mile at a Time this morning, I saw some of the best news I've heard in a while... relatively speaking.

Delta Eliminating Onboard Duty Free Sales

 I'm sure somebody buys that stuff, but I haven't the faintest idea why.  The last thing I want while trying to relax on a plane is some poor flight attendant trying to hawk overpriced booze, cigarettes, and perfume.  I'd rather shop in Skymall.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Manufactured Spending- OneVanilla Prepaid

If you have a CVS nearby, OneVanilla Prepaid debit cards have long been the best option for generating spend with the giftcard-->money order-->bank method of manufactured spending.  The became slightly less valuable a while back when Sam Walton's chain of stores stopped recognizing OneVanilla cards as debit cards.  This meant that OVs could no longer be used to fund Bluebird cards or to purchase money orders.  Well, the door has cracked open again, because Wally World's self-service moneycenter kiosks are now recognizing OVs as debit cards.  FWIW, actual Money Center registers still treat OVs as credit cards.

UPDATE:  Reports of glitchiness today on Flyertalk.  I had the same issues that some Flyertalkers have mentioned: some OVs work, some are rejected as "debit unavailable."  No idea why that is.

UPDATED UPDATE: Still Glitchy.  Enough so, that I'll be letting this window of opportunity pass by unless I hear reports that things are improving.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Taxi Green - Lima

It recently came to my attention that I never got around to reviewing Taxi Green, the taxi company that Mrs. Pointsninja and I employed on our trip to Lima last fall.  Our experience with them was excellent, and I thought I'd take the chance to remedy my lapse. 

As Ben recently noted, taxi scams that exploit tourists are one of the dangers of international travel, and Lima is one of those cities that has a bad reputation in this area.  So, it was with some trepidation that I began researching transportation options.  The consensus seemed to be that Taxi Green was the best choice for getting from the airport into Miraflores.  They have a stand inside the airport just before the exit, though you'll likely be approached by one of their drivers before you get to it.  The stand has a list of the set prices to various parts of Lima.  As I recall the fare to Miraflores was 45 soles (about $16).  You could probably do a little better by exiting the airport and negotiating, but it's just not worth it to save a couple of bucks in my opinion.

Regardless, our driver got us to the Hilton with no trouble.  The route is kind of interesting as you descend from the plateau that most of Lima sits on to the highway that runs along the coast.  On one side the Pacific stretches away, and on the other sheer cliffs of stone aggregate hem you in.  Once you get to Miraflores you wind your way back up the cliff. 

Where Taxi Green really shone, though, was on our return when we ended up with an unexpected 12 hour layover in Lima.  We decided to check our bags and venture into the old town to see the Plaza de Armas.  Once again we took Taxi Green for a set price.  On our way into town, our very friendly driver mentioned that the traffic would be heavy due to a visit by the President of Brazil.  Security for the visit also meant that he would have to drop us off just outside the square.

As we approached the square, our driver asked how we planned to get back to the airport.  Well, since this was an unplanned excursion, I hadn't really thought about it.  He offered to meet us in front of the Cathedral a few hours later and drive us back to the airport at the same rate as the trip out.  That suited me just fine.  As we were getting out of the cab he handed us his card and reiterated that he'd meet us at the Cathedral at 18:30. 

It was at this point that something shocking happened.  Mrs. Pointsninja (who has better Spanish than I) asked if he'd like us to go ahead and pay and he said "No, you can pay me later."  I'll admit, I was astonished.  Perhaps it was his way of making us feel obliged to show up for the return trip, but I was floored.  Given the nightmare that is Peru traffic, and particularly considering the security issues surrounding  a presidential visit, I really didn't expect to ever see our driver again.  As he departed with a friendly wave, I said as much to my wife.

Still, after a great afternoon hanging out in Lima's El Centro, we made our way to the steps of the Cathedral, still speculating over whether our driver would actually show up.  Sure enough, he pulled up at 18:30 on the dot.  Despite some truly nightmarish traffic on the way back to the airport, he got us there in time for our flight.  In all, I would not hesitate to recommend Taxi Green if you're planning a trip to Lima.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Good Post on Redeeming Miles

Ben over at One Mile at a Time has a very useful post on redeeming miles HERE.  As a full-time points and miles blogger, Ben is usually a great source for information and this post is no exception.  He covers many of the tips that I've mentioned in the past, and I'd recommend bookmarking this post for future reference.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Bluebird Increases Daily Load Limits

Listed on my sidebar are the three travel/points bloggers that are my "go to" guys for travel information: Gary @ View From the Wing, Ben @ One Mile at a Time, and Greg @ The Frequent Miler.  Yesterday Greg posted on a positive change to Bluebird's terms and conditions.  As of July 1, Bluebird's "Add Funds" terms look like this:
However, TFM reports that the limit at Walmart is actually $1,999.99 per day.  The previous daily load limit was $1,000 and the daily online debit load was $100.  If you have a miles earning debit card (or Visa/MC prepaid debit cards that still work @ Walmart) Bluebird had just  reduced the number of times you'll have to visit Wally World by half!  That's great news if, like me, Walmart is not your favorite place.

UPDATE:  I can confirm that the Walmart limit is not $1,999.99 per day.  That is Walmart's limit per register, per transaction.  You can load the full $2,500 by visiting more than one register or a combination of a register and the Walmart Moneycenter automated kiosk.

Suntrust Delta Debit Card is Gone for Now

For anyone who lives anywhere near a Delta hub, the Suntrust Delta Skymiles debit card was one of the best deals out there.  The sign-up bonus of 5K Skymiles wasn't massive, and there was the hassle of having to establish a Suntrust checking account, but the earning potential was massive.

I posted a month or so ago that Suntrust had stopped promoting the card on their website, but that there were reports that the card was still available in branches or by phone or chat.  Well, I was motivated to check up on the card when Bluebird changed their daily load limits from $1,000 to $2,500, since I sometimes use my Skymiles debit card to load Bluebird (and earn miles for doing so).  Unfortunately, it seems that the card is well and truly gone for now.  During an online chat with Suntrust customer service, I was informed that Suntrust "is no longer offering that card at this time."

It seems that if you don't already have a Suntrust debit card, your window of opportunity has passed.  If the card comes back in the future, I can only imagine that it will be with a more restricted miles earning structure, i.e. no miles for PIN based transactions.

EDIT: As additional support, I note that the former website for the card [link is now spam, so I've deliberately left it cold] has apparently been abandoned by Suntrust and snapped up by a domain squatter.  However, if you have any faith in the diligence of Delta's IT guys (Ed: Ha!), you can rest your hopes on the fact that Delta still promotes the card on their website:

Monday, June 23, 2014


One of my favorite blogs is Glenn Reynold's Instapundit.  Instapundit's habit of linking to interesting stories from lesser known bloggers has given rise to the term "Instalanche" to describe the spike in pageviews caused by one of his links.  Well, this humble blog gets around 30 pageviews a day, which isn't bad for a blog that was intended to be a reference for my friends and family.  But last week, Gary at Viewfromthewing was kind enough to link to my post advising caution to the folks active in Manufactured Spending.  That resulted in a massive (by my extremely humble standards) spike in my page traffic:
I think I'll call it a "Garylanche."

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Manufactured Spending- Emergency Exits

My last post got me to thinking about holding and liquidating prepaid Visa/Mastercard debit cards.  If you're reading this, you likely know that virtually all prepaid debit cards now come with (or can be assigned) PIN numbers.  Which means, or at least has meant, that one could easily liquidate them by purchasing money orders.  This week we saw the demise of one of the easiest and cheapest sources of manufactured spending when Walmart ceased accepting OneVanila Prepaid Debit Cards for the purchase of money orders.  Fortunately, most of us have alternative sources for liquidating the cards.

But what if those go away too?  (As could easily happen since Western Union is the source of virtually all money orders).  And what if you have a pile of debit cards on hand when that happens?  You could, of course, liquidate them at a rate of $2,000/mo via Amazon Payments. (Amazon Payments was shut down, effective Oct. 13, 2014).  Or you could use them for your everyday expenses.  Or you could take a small loss by purchasing giftcards for resale.  For example, most grocery stores have a pretty good gift card rack that includes gas cards.  Exxon gas cards can be sold to for 92% of face value.  Linking to Cardpool through will earn you an additional 4% on the sale price for your first $1,000.  So, for a hypothetical MSer holding $1K in gift cards that he absolutely had to liquidate the results would look like this:

$1K in Visa --> $1K Exxon
$1K Exxon sold to Cardpool- $920.00
4% from Topcashback -           $ 36.80
Total Recouped-                      $956.80

Ouch, that's nearly a 5% loss!  The rate gets worse after that first $1,000 because you lose the TCB bonus (Unless you signed up for multiple Cardpool accounts).

But wait, if your grocery store has a Fuel Rewards type program, you'll be earning some gas credit on the purchase too.  For instance, Winn-Dixie regularly offers 5cpg (up to 20 gallons) off for each $50 in gift card purchases.  So the numbers could look like this:

$1K in Visa --> $1K Exxon
$1K Exxon sold to Cardpool- $920.00
4% from Topcashback -           $ 36.80
$1 off 20 gallons-                     $ 20.00
Total Recouped-                      $976.80

Ugh, still a 2.5% loss.  There are other ways to liquidate cards (Amazon Payments, etc.) but almost all of them are going to entail some loss.  Once again, the lesson is: don't overextend.

P.S.:  Cardpool limits Topcashback commissions to the first $1K sold per Cardpool account.  (Hint).

Friday, June 20, 2014

Manufactured Spending- Another Disturbance in the Force

     There's been a great deal of distress over at Flyertalk lately due to the demise of one avenue for manufacturing spend.  Wally World (W**-Mart) has recently changed their POS software in such a way that prepaid Vanilla Visa Debit cards can no longer be used to purchase money orders or to load Bluebird cards.  This is a serious blow to folks whose source of prepaid debit cards is limited to CVS, since the only cards available on credit there are Vanilla cards.  There are (inflated, I hope) reports of people being stuck with many thousands of dollars in cards that they can no longer easily convert into cash equivalents.  There's a lesson here, of course.  Risk is an unavoidable part of life, but if you're smart, you'll limit your exposure.  If you decide to use any of the manufactured spending techniques, best practices call for you to liquidate the cards as fast as you accumulate them.  Don't get greedy and think that there'll always be a way to liquidate the cards later.

     As they said in Battlestar Galactica, "all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again."  Not long ago, there was a brief opportunity to use Home Improvement Gift Cards to purchase money orders.  It was clearly a glitch and not long for this world, but, nevertheless, some overenthusiastic folks loaded up on thousands of dollars worth of the cards and were caught short when the glitch was fixed.  If they were smart they only lost 5% on the deal, but then, if they were smart, they wouldn't have been holding $10K+ in HIGCs.  Remember: "If something can't go on forever, it won't."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Buying Points vs. Manufactured Spending

One of my favorite bloggers covered Club Carlson's current promotion for a "Flash Sale" on Club Carlson points.    With this Club Carlson deal you can (for a limited time) buy points at .4cpp, a substantial discount over the normal rate.  It got me thinking about the value proposition of purchasing points directly from hotels/airlines versus obtaining them by manufactured spending.

As an initial matter, its rarely a good idea to purchase points prospectively, i.e. without a specific use in mind.  There's always the possibility that the points could devalue before you get the chance to use them.  But when you have a specific purpose in mind, deals like this one can be worthwhile.  For instance:  Mrs. Pointsninja have an upcoming stay at the Radisson Blu at the Zurich Airport.  The non-cancellable Advanced Purchase rate is 260CHF, or about $290.  But an award stay (which is fully cancellable) runs 50,000 Club Carlson points.  Through the current promotion, I could purchase 50,750 points for $203.  I could then use those points to book the room and effectively save $87, plus get a cancellable rate to boot!  The key, of course, is that I'd be purchasing points at a cost of .4cpp, but redeeming them at a value of .58cpp.

Of course, through manufactured spending with the Club Carlson Visa, I can quite easily "purchase" points at a rate of .21cpp, meaning that I could actually get the room for $185 cheaper than the Advanced Purchase rate.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Manufactured Spending- Earning Points and Making a Profit by Spending Money

     I've written about manufactured spending before.  Manufactured spending, or MSing, is a blanket term for a variety of techniques for generating credit card spending without actually incurring debt.  MSing even has its own forum on Flyertalk.  A basic MS cycle for purchasing Visa gift cards (one of several different techniques) looks like this:

In other words, you use your credit card of choice to purchase gift cards which you then turn into money orders that you use to pay off your credit card.  You'll incur some costs (approx. 1.1% of your generated spending), but so long as the points you earn are worth more than the fees you pay, you'll be in the black.  Ordinary MSing can be an effective way to greatly reduce the cost of travel.

    However, thanks to our good friends at American Express (otherwise know as America's most generous credit card company) you can actually generate a substantial amount of spending and earn a profit over and above the value of the points you earn.  That's because Amex has been selling gift cards through their site for the last several years.  And they pay referral fees to various shopping portals, who then pass part of that fee on to you.  As of the date of this post, you can earn 4% cashback on purchases of American Express gift cards.

     Here's a personal example.  Today, I purchased $5,000.00 worth of Amex Gift cards after linking through  As of today, BeFrugal is paying (after a waiting period of around 60 days) 4%.  So, I'll earn $200 cashback for purchasing the cards.  I payed for the cards with my American Express Hilton Honors card, so I'll earn 15,000 Hilton Honors points.  Amex had a fee-free promotion for Father's day, so I didn't incur any purchase fees.  When the cards arrive, I'll take them out and use them to purchase Visa (debit) gift cards, incurring a fee of around 1% or $50 total.  I'll then use the debit cards to purchase money orders for a total fee of around $3-5.  Then, the money orders go back into my checking account and I pay off the original $5K charge.

     So, subtracting the fees I'll pay from the rebate I'll receive, my net profit will be $145.  Plus 15,000 Hilton Honors points.  That's not free travel, that's better than free travel!

UPDATE:  Befrugal is now down to 2.5% cashback.  This THREAD on Flyertalk tracks this deal pretty thoroughly.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Don't forget about Alliances!

I've covered this before, but in light of a recent experience, I believe it's worth mentioning again: every major US airline is a member of one of the three airline alliances (Star Alliance, Skyteam, and Oneworld).  So if you can't find the tickets you need, don't forget that your miles aren't just good on one airline!  This is particularly important to remember for international travel when your carrier of choice may have limited overseas routes or doesn't fly to the city you want to visit.

Alliances also often ofter a better value for your miles.  For instance, I'm currently booking tickets for my parents on Delta.  Delta's "Saver" TATL Business class flights are currently going for 125,000 Skymiles.   If there are no "Saver" awards available, you could be looking at paying 200,000-350,000 miles for those tickets.  But Delta partners with two very versatile TATL carriers, Air France and KLM.  And with Delta, partner awards (if available) always book at the "Saver" level.

The Oneworld Alliance recently came through for me in a big way, thanks to the recent US Airways/American Airlines merger.  A few years back I acquired the British Airways Visa (with a 100K mile signup bonus!) with the idea of flying in BA First with Mrs. Pointsninja.  That was before I realized how high the fuel surcharges on BA (a Oneworld member) were.  Yikes!  I ended up using those miles for alliance awards( with Oneworld member LAN) on our Peru trip.

Well, US is now a member of the Oneworld alliance but, as many bloggers have noted, US doesn't seem to have its award software fully integrated with the Oneworld yet.  As a result, US isn't currently imposing fuel surcharges on BA flights.  What that means is that by using my US miles I was able to book MGM-DFW-LHR-FRA (roundtrip) in BA First for 125,00 miles and $192 in taxes and fees.  That same ticket booked with AA or BA miles would have cost me the same number of miles, but over $2,000 in taxes and fees!

Monday, April 21, 2014

American Express and Skymiles- Gold Amex Statement Credit for Giftcard purchase

Last week I mentioned that targeted offers for Amex Delta Skymiles cards can be found at  After entering my Skymiles # and last name, I was offered the Delta Gold Amex ($95 annual fee/waived first year) with 50,000 Skymiles (for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days) and a $50 statement credit for your first purchase $50+ Delta purchase using the card.  That's substantially better than the best public offer on or

I don't have any Delta travel coming up, but I recently read that Delta is now selling electronic giftcards.  On a whim, I decided to check to see if purchasing a Delta e-gift card would trigger the $50 statement credit.  I purchased the e-cert on Friday and today the credit posted!  Now I just have to remember to use the e-cert to pay the taxes and fees on my next Delta award flight.

P.S.:  Based on this experiment, I believe that e-cert purchases would count for the Amex Platinum $200 annual airline credit.
UPDATE:  Thanks to DeltaGoldFlyer's comment, I see that Rene over at DeltaPoints has confirmed that $50 Delta E-gift cards qualify for the Plat. credit!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Two Cheers for Delta Skymiles!

Delta Skymiles is definitely the red-headed stepchild of the miles & points world.  It's the program that everyone (except Rene @ Deltapoints!) loves to hate.  Delta still has a hopelessly broken award search engine, they recently devalued their award chart,

and their new earning structure is really bad for frequent flyers who pay for travel.  It appears that there's even more reason for Gary to call Delta miles Skypesos.

And yet, Delta is still my go to program.  That's partially because I'm based in the South and have long been captive to Delta's Atlanta hub.  It also helps that Delta is one of the better programs (in my experience) for shoulder-season transatlantic (TATL) business ("O class") class travel.  But I have access to AA/US through MGM and UA through BHM, and I still value Skymiles above AAdvantage Miles, Dividend Miles, or Mileage Plus Miles.  Why is that?  Because I hate, hate, hate, paying out the nose for "free" tickets.

I'm currently trying to book some TATL award travel for the Christmas season.  Both Delta and AA have business class availability, but AA's primary TATL partner is British Airways, and BA charges exorbitant taxes and fuel surcharges.  A TATL roundtrip in O would run 100K miles plus nearly $1000.  By contrast a similar Delta itinerary is pricing out at 125K miles plus less than $100 in taxes and fees.  US used to be a decent option for TATL travel with Lufthansa, but now that they've left the Star Alliance and joined Oneworld, US partner award travel will be hit with the same fuel surcharges that plague AA.

The entire goal of my points and miles strategy is to avoid (or at least minimize) the need to pay out of pocket for travel.  Paying 100K miles plus $1,000 might objectively be a really good deal for a ticket that could cost $6-8,000, but subjectively it's a terrible deal because I'd never pay $8K in the first place.  Sure, I could pay taxes and fees with a travel cashback card (like the Arrival or Venture cards), but I'd rather use points from those programs to pay for hotels or other travel expenses.

I also end up using Delta a lot because their miles are pretty easy to get.  Delta is a transfer partner with Amex Membership Rewards, and there are a lot of ways to earn MR points pretty cheaply.  Amex also offers three different Delta Skymiles cards (though you can only have one at a time) and there are pretty good targeted signup offers available.  I applied through and received a signup offer of no annual fee for the first year, 50,000 Skymiles for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days, and  $50 statement credit.  That beats the current offer on Delta's website by 20,000 miles.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Manufactured Spending: Cautionary Tales

I've previously discussed the  benefits of using credit cards to purchase prepaid debit cards.  Now, I'd like to share a cautionary tale from Flyertalk.  ma91mph posted an example of losing (temporarily, one hopes) the funds on two of his cards after they were refunded to the card through a failed billpay transaction.  The takeaway is that if you pursue this route, it's important to keep your receipts and your used cards.  Even after you think you've used the card up, it could be important to prove that you purchased it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tweetdeck & Amex Sync

Big tip of the hat to The Frequent Miler.  I've mentioned American Express' "Sync" offers here before.  Amex frequently offers some really great discounts (in the form of automatic statement credits) for places that I regularly shop.  For instance, they are currently offering $10 off a $50 purchase at Lowes.  The trick is that the Amex website will only allow you to sign up for these offers for your primary user card.  If you want to sign up authorized users, you need a work-around.

Twitter works great for this because if you sync an Amex card to your Twitter account, you can sign up for many of the Sync offers by tweeting a specific hashtag (#AmexLowes, for example).  The trouble is that you can only sync one card per account.  So naturally, I set up 8 different Twitter accounts for each of my primary and authorized user accounts.  There was still a bit of effort, but in a matter of minutes, I could sign up every card I controlled for any particular Sync offer.

I thought I was being very clever, but some others had me beat.  As TFM points out, you can use TweetDeck (a Twitter service) to send out identical tweets from every Twitter account you control!  That means one sign in, one tweet, and you can sign up 8 (or 10 or 12) Amex cards for any Sync offer that's available on Twitter.  Sweet!