The Points Guy

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The Points Guy

Postby MnD » Wed May 01, 2013 12:11 pm

I've been trending more and more into this "game" of points, miles, cash back and sign-up bonuses the past year or so.
After recently reading several "The Points Guy" articles including the 13 beginner pieces, I think I'm going to really ramp things up quite a bit.
Without any real systematic plan and very little effort in the past 12 months we netted around $1700 in cash back and enough miles for two free first class round-trip tickets to Hawaii that were selling on expedia for $6200 on the day we booked the trip. Almost eight grand for a few minutes of reading and applying.

http://thepointsguy.com/beginners-guide/

If you dig into this, things can get complicated in a hurry - for example how to "effectively" pay for things like mortgages, car payments and tuition bills with a cash back or points earning credit cards via a three step process involving a rewards credit card, debt reload cards and a prepaid debit card with bill pay service. :twisted:

http://thepointsguy.com/2012/12/maximiz ... he-basics/
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby 2stepsbehind » Wed May 01, 2013 12:32 pm

Certainly a great place to start for beginners, but if you really want to ramp up your game, it is best to plug into the source. Frequenting the flyertalk forum is the best way to stay on top of the best earning/redemption opportunities. http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/miles-points-1/
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby Gleevec » Wed May 01, 2013 1:15 pm

I have gone on this road and back.

I started with a Fidelity AmEx 2% and a gas card.

Went down the starwood/hilton/hyatt bandwagon. Then saw everything get devalued right before I was going to hop on to an airline credit card.
Seriously considered the AmEx platinum for a while.
Recently considered the Chase Sapphire Preferred combo with Freedom and bank account (but recent changes to program)

And am now back to Fidelity AmEx 2% and a gas card.

His site and others like it (and flyertalk boards being the bogleheads forum version of churning) are great especially if you have a high credit card spend (small business or run your own office), travel a ton on the corporate payroll (and can get a ton of perks).

But for leisure travelers like me, it ended up being more of a hassle and an increasing disappointment as [economic policy comment removed by admin LadyGeek]

If you want to start, would consider some of the no annual fee cards to start out with (Hilton AmEx, Chase Sapphire non preferred, Chase Freedom) and work from there.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby sesq » Wed May 01, 2013 2:43 pm

I prefer Flyertalk as some of the bloggers (not accusing TPG) will pitch an affiliate link to a card when a better version of the same card is out there. They make pretty good bank on their offers (no harm in earning a living). The threads on FT are usually quite comprehensive on what is the best deal.

I was a happy 2% guy until they took the Schwab visa away. Then I rode the AARP 5% card and the Citi TY Pref 5% card for successive 6 month stretches (both offers now dead, though citi has a gas/grocery/drug for 12 mos variant out there). When those ran out I found FT and have bonus harvested since. Its complicated, but I have averaged about a 12.5% yield spread accross 17 cards and 4 promotions. Most of that value is in banked points which could devalue, but even based on the redeemed amounts I am at a 4.4% yield (coach tickets, mid-market hotels).
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby Batousai » Wed May 01, 2013 3:00 pm

I've noticed half the battle is in redeeming the points.

You could for example, spend 50K points for a 100$ a night hotel room on one end of the spectrum. On the other end you could get a room at the Hilton on the south beach for the same 50K, a 500$ a night room. Note, that's market rate, not rack rate.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby MnD » Wed May 01, 2013 5:23 pm

The hotel programs seem at first glance to be not very productive. I stay where the client wants me or where the meetings are so my points are spread all over.
It also seems like the points needed for awards in hotel programs are typically very high.
I've never actually claimed a hotel reward for anything other than to convert hotel miles to airline miles periodically.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby hsv_climber » Wed May 01, 2013 5:42 pm

CITI TYP and Chase UR points are great.
I've started playing around half-seriously with points&miles this year and currently at 8 free plane tickets and ~$1,700 cash YTD.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby WHL » Wed May 01, 2013 6:54 pm

Been preaching this forever. Putting charges on a non-rewards credit card is just ridiculous. It's throwing away so much money annually - it's a huge financial mistake.

I see many people posting that "rewards aren't free, you're paying for them somewhere." Sure, that's true, but it's true for everyone, so you keep paying cash, I'll pay the same price on my credit card, and I'll be the one enjoying my first class round trip international plane tickets :)
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby C8H18Engineer » Wed May 01, 2013 7:09 pm

One might consider following the money here to see if this is really something that should be heavily promoted. I don't like these kind of cards from an ethical point of view, although it might seem that the points-derived goods and services are "free" - they most certainly are not.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby gerrym51 » Wed May 01, 2013 7:34 pm

i go to disney world every year(own disney vacation club). i have disney visa card that gives me disney dollars based on purchases . i buy park passes with this money
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby jay22 » Wed May 01, 2013 8:03 pm

I recently started reading about how to maximize points on CC spending. It's amazing how much you can earn if you're smart and invest sometime in reading and learning.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby jodydavis » Wed May 01, 2013 8:07 pm

I think this is very much a YMMV situation, depending on, among other things, your propensity to travel, your level of credit card spend, and your willingness to keep track of numerous cards/miles/bonuses, etc. Also the return is better if you spend the miles/points on business/first class flights or nicer hotels.

That said, if you are willing to invest some time and have a specific goal in mind, it can be a real benefit. We recently spent five nights for free at the Park Hyatt Tokyo ($600+/night), by simply opening up two no-fee credit cards and using some Chase UR points.

More recently, I've shifted away from airline miles towards hotel points, since I find them generally easier to redeem.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby tfb » Wed May 01, 2013 10:51 pm

MnD wrote:enough miles for two free first class round-trip tickets to Hawaii that were selling on expedia for $6200 on the day we booked the trip

They are worth $6,200 only if you otherwise are willing to spend $6,200 on those tickets. If you are only willing to spend $1,200 cash for the tickets, then they are worth $1,200.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby stan_the_man » Wed May 01, 2013 11:36 pm

gerrym51 wrote:i go to disney world every year(own disney vacation club). i have disney visa card that gives me disney dollars based on purchases . i buy park passes with this money

That card is simply a1% card -- which are a dime a dozen. Even worse, you're restricted in just using your points on Disney stuff.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby Allan » Thu May 02, 2013 5:46 am

I use Amex in my business a lot (like $500k per year) and I like the gift cards, which can be used on just about anything. During Christmas holidays they are offered at the best deal, basically $1000 for every $100,000 spent.

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Re: The Points Guy

Postby TheOscarGuy » Thu May 02, 2013 6:31 am

stan_the_man wrote:
gerrym51 wrote:i go to disney world every year(own disney vacation club). i have disney visa card that gives me disney dollars based on purchases . i buy park passes with this money

That card is simply a1% card -- which are a dime a dozen. Even worse, you're restricted in just using your points on Disney stuff.


Yup, my thought exactly.
Instead sign up for CSP for the entire stay/vacation, get bonus 40K (assuming you don't have this card already), and get $400 cash back (probably worse use of these points), or transfer to hotel loyalty programs/airlines FF programs. There are also people who will buy these points for you for hard cash, if you aren't planning on traveling.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby WHL » Thu May 02, 2013 1:15 pm

tfb wrote:
MnD wrote:enough miles for two free first class round-trip tickets to Hawaii that were selling on expedia for $6200 on the day we booked the trip

They are worth $6,200 only if you otherwise are willing to spend $6,200 on those tickets. If you are only willing to spend $1,200 cash for the tickets, then they are worth $1,200.


While I can understand your argument for things like computers and clothing, I would dare you to find first class tickets for a long / international flight for $1200.

Airline prices aren't negotiable, therefore, the benefit is there.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby WHL » Thu May 02, 2013 1:18 pm

C8H18Engineer wrote:One might consider following the money here to see if this is really something that should be heavily promoted. I don't like these kind of cards from an ethical point of view, although it might seem that the points-derived goods and services are "free" - they most certainly are not.


Please explain how taking advantage of programs being offered by credit card companies and airlines is unethical. I don't understand that one bit.

I already touched on the "free" part, but what else would you have me do? Pay the same price for an item cash, or use my rewards cc and get points? I'll game it as long as its available.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby hsv_climber » Thu May 02, 2013 1:27 pm

Reward credit cards with SB work pretty much like index funds vs high fee mutual funds:
- people who can restrain themselves will get the benefits
- people who can't restrain themselves will pay the bills for the rest of us
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby winglessangel31 » Thu May 02, 2013 1:32 pm

hsv_climber wrote:Reward credit cards with SB work pretty much like index funds vs high fee mutual funds:
- people who can restrain themselves will get the benefits
- people who can't restrain themselves will pay the bills for the rest of us

The world is just a giant game of [Starcraft, Settlers of Catan, et cetera] - the resourceful win. ;) :beer
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby C8H18Engineer » Thu May 02, 2013 1:41 pm

WHL wrote:
C8H18Engineer wrote:One might consider following the money here to see if this is really something that should be heavily promoted. I don't like these kind of cards from an ethical point of view, although it might seem that the points-derived goods and services are "free" - they most certainly are not.


Please explain how taking advantage of programs being offered by credit card companies and airlines is unethical. I don't understand that one bit.

I already touched on the "free" part, but what else would you have me do? Pay the same price for an item cash, or use my rewards cc and get points? I'll game it as long as its available.


Eventually the credit card company pays for these goods and services. The revenue of the credit card companies come from a few primary sources:
1) interest on balances carried past the grace period
2) fees charged to merchant service providers (who then charge these to businesses)

The merchant fees charged to businesses is directly related to the level of points or other benefits provided by the card (these are typically called qualified, partially qualified, and non-qualified swipes). The more points offered, the higher this invisible fee goes, and the higher consumer prices go for those paying cash, or don't use/qualify for credit cards (probably lower income folks - see the unethical part?) To me this is taking from the many and giving to the few.

As owner of a dying business, I am quite familiar with the impact of these fees... I have had to raise prices on everything.

On the high interest charged to balances carried, those with either the inability to pay the full balance or irresponsible purchasing behaviors are paying these. Probably a mixed bag of people in that category, but again the cost of providing the services in exchange for points encourages the credit card company to raise that interest rate to pay for them. You'd have to agree that these unsecured credit rates are some of the highest around (legal ones...that is)
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby MnD » Thu May 02, 2013 3:58 pm

C8H18Engineer wrote:To me this is taking from the many and giving to the few.


One popular reward card issuer, (Cap1) makes around $1 billion dollars net profit per quarter, and that's after all costs of benefits to reward card customers.
One could argue that absent reward costs, the banks would just pocket more profit.

The very best reward cards are doled out to the customers with the most income and spending, and highest credit ratings.
They buy far more stuff per store visit and the type of stuff with higher profit margins than say a shopper with a secured debit card down at the Dollar Store would.
In a world where "rewards for poor choices" is often the case, its nice to see instances where being successful, responsible and organized also has some rewards.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby swaption » Thu May 02, 2013 8:27 pm

MnD wrote:The hotel programs seem at first glance to be not very productive. I stay where the client wants me or where the meetings are so my points are spread all over.
It also seems like the points needed for awards in hotel programs are typically very high.
I've never actually claimed a hotel reward for anything other than to convert hotel miles to airline miles periodically.


Starwood is great. No blackout and typically fifth night free. Can get pretty decent island westin for about 48k for 5 nights In high season. Much less games than airline cards.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby jeffyscott » Thu May 02, 2013 9:18 pm

C8H18Engineer wrote:Eventually the credit card company pays for these goods and services. The revenue of the credit card companies come from a few primary sources:
1) interest on balances carried past the grace period
2) fees charged to merchant service providers (who then charge these to businesses)

The merchant fees charged to businesses is directly related to the level of points or other benefits provided by the card (these are typically called qualified, partially qualified, and non-qualified swipes). The more points offered, the higher this invisible fee goes, and the higher consumer prices go for those paying cash, or don't use/qualify for credit cards (probably lower income folks - see the unethical part?) To me this is taking from the many and giving to the few.

As owner of a dying business, I am quite familiar with the impact of these fees... I have had to raise prices on everything.


Businesses have always been free to offer a discount for cash. Nearly none do, is this because the credit card fees are actually not all that different from the costs associated with handling cash? Or is it that business owners choose to (unethically?) pocket the extra profits from customers that do not use credit cards (probably lower income folks - see the unethical part?).
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby xram » Thu May 02, 2013 9:24 pm

Cool. Great post.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby C8H18Engineer » Fri May 03, 2013 12:15 am

jeffyscott wrote:
C8H18Engineer wrote:Eventually the credit card company pays for these goods and services. The revenue of the credit card companies come from a few primary sources:
1) interest on balances carried past the grace period
2) fees charged to merchant service providers (who then charge these to businesses)

The merchant fees charged to businesses is directly related to the level of points or other benefits provided by the card (these are typically called qualified, partially qualified, and non-qualified swipes). The more points offered, the higher this invisible fee goes, and the higher consumer prices go for those paying cash, or don't use/qualify for credit cards (probably lower income folks - see the unethical part?) To me this is taking from the many and giving to the few.

As owner of a dying business, I am quite familiar with the impact of these fees... I have had to raise prices on everything.


Businesses have always been free to offer a discount for cash. Nearly none do, is this because the credit card fees are actually not all that different from the costs associated with handling cash? Or is it that business owners choose to (unethically?) pocket the extra profits from customers that do not use credit cards (probably lower income folks - see the unethical part?).


Agreed, the merchant contract does include this convenient little clause that business must charge full price for credit purchases and allows for cash discounts for other payment types. It's only convenient for the merchant service provider as the administrative overhead of a two-tiered price structure on more than a handful of items far outweighs any benefits (see only gasoline retailers doing this on three items) - especially when in a small business the burden of that accounting overhead falls to the single person who is the CEO, tax manager, payroll administrator, janitor...

My point is that the points system simply raises the costs of everything - it is insidious and opaque just like the high ER of some mutual funds.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby interplanetjanet » Fri May 03, 2013 12:58 am

TheOscarGuy wrote:Instead sign up for CSP for the entire stay/vacation, get bonus 40K (assuming you don't have this card already), and get $400 cash back (probably worse use of these points), or transfer to hotel loyalty programs/airlines FF programs.

And then, if you can't justify the annual fee, you can ask Chase to convert you to the regular Sapphire just before your 1-year point is up. The customer service is still exceptional (the reason I keep the card around, really) and they preserve your credit limit and points.

WHL wrote:Been preaching this forever. Putting charges on a non-rewards credit card is just ridiculous. It's throwing away so much money annually - it's a huge financial mistake.

I think that it really depends on how much you can put through your cards annually - though if you are a relatively low spender, you can still chase signup offers and make out pretty well. After finding out that my main utility lets me pay using a CC for a modest flat fee, it became a wonderful tool for meeting CC minimum spends - I just throw a few kilodollars on the electricity and gas bill to make a minimum spend and then I don't have to worry about the bill for another half year.

Speaking of utilities, does anyone know of a card that gives higher than 2.4% cash back on them? That's what my Barclays MC gives (2 points per dollar, plus a 20% bonus when redeeming more than 20000 points).
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby tfb » Fri May 03, 2013 2:34 am

WHL wrote:
tfb wrote:
MnD wrote:enough miles for two free first class round-trip tickets to Hawaii that were selling on expedia for $6200 on the day we booked the trip

They are worth $6,200 only if you otherwise are willing to spend $6,200 on those tickets. If you are only willing to spend $1,200 cash for the tickets, then they are worth $1,200.


While I can understand your argument for things like computers and clothing, I would dare you to find first class tickets for a long / international flight for $1200.

Airline prices aren't negotiable, therefore, the benefit is there.

Yes the benefit is there but if you are not willing to pay the difference in cash, it means you don't value the better seat as much the price tag. If coach seat is $1,000 and first class is $1,010, I would get the first class seat. If it's $1,100 I would still get it. At some point I would stop -- my willingness to pay -- that's how much the better seat is worth to me. It doesn't matter whether airline prices are negotiable or not. It also doesn't matter whether you are able to obtain the seat at the price you are willing to pay. You just buy a substitute product (coach). If someone offers you $6,200 or a first class ticket you always pocket the cash, it means the seat isn't worth $6,200.

I heard very few first class seats are actually sold for the cash price. They are given out as upgrades for rewarding loyalty. The high price tag is just a signaling device to make the recipients feel better. This is similar to the high price tag for elite colleges where few actually pay the sticker price, or the high price tag hospitals use when they bill (most patients pay a heavily discounted price through insurance).
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby gkaplan » Fri May 03, 2013 8:05 am

I don't fly.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby Default User BR » Fri May 03, 2013 10:07 am

gkaplan wrote:I don't fly.

Yeah, I don't travel much at all. I look for straight cash-back rewards.


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Re: The Points Guy

Postby jeffyscott » Fri May 03, 2013 1:54 pm

Default User BR wrote:
gkaplan wrote:I don't fly.

Yeah, I don't travel much at all. I look for straight cash-back rewards.


Brian


Some points/miles have cash or cash-like value as well. For example when I got a sign-up bonus of 50,000 point from Southwest, this was worth about $850 or so in airfare, but could have redeemed for $500 in Kohl's gift cards as one option. When I got a 50,000 point bonus from Sapphire, this could have been redeemed for $500 in cash or $625 for any travel expense booked through chase, but chose to transfer to United miles plus where I estimate the value ended up being about $850 to $1000 (this based on 60,000 miles/points plus ~$120 for coach round trip to Europe).
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby jeffyscott » Fri May 03, 2013 2:08 pm

tfb wrote:Yes the benefit is there but if you are not willing to pay the difference in cash, it means you don't value the better seat as much the price tag. If coach seat is $1,000 and first class is $1,010, I would get the first class seat. If it's $1,100 I would still get it. At some point I would stop -- my willingness to pay -- that's how much the better seat is worth to me. It doesn't matter whether airline prices are negotiable or not. It also doesn't matter whether you are able to obtain the seat at the price you are willing to pay. You just buy a substitute product (coach). If someone offers you $6,200 or a first class ticket you always pocket the cash, it means the seat isn't worth $6,200.


I agree and this applies even if points/miles are used. For example with the United program the cheapest round trip to Europe is 120,000 points, business/first class is 200,000, or 270,000 for first class in a plane with actual first class that is separate from business. One business class round trip is not worth 1-2/3 coach round trips to me, I don't care if United claims the coach ticket is worth $1200 and the business class is worth $3000 or whatever. One first class round trip is also not worth 2-1/4 coach round trips, even if United's cash pricing puts it at 5 times the price of coach, or whatever.

For me a true first class ticket, assuming that means a seat that lays flat so I can sleep, might be worth maybe an extra $100-200. As I look at it as maybe that saves you from "wasting" a day recovering at your destination and an extra day means spending about that much. If it is just business class, meaning a few extra inches of leg room, that is worth about a buck-three-eighty to me.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby garg33 » Fri May 03, 2013 6:45 pm

jeffyscott wrote:
tfb wrote:Yes the benefit is there but if you are not willing to pay the difference in cash, it means you don't value the better seat as much the price tag. If coach seat is $1,000 and first class is $1,010, I would get the first class seat. If it's $1,100 I would still get it. At some point I would stop -- my willingness to pay -- that's how much the better seat is worth to me. It doesn't matter whether airline prices are negotiable or not. It also doesn't matter whether you are able to obtain the seat at the price you are willing to pay. You just buy a substitute product (coach). If someone offers you $6,200 or a first class ticket you always pocket the cash, it means the seat isn't worth $6,200.


I agree and this applies even if points/miles are used. For example with the United program the cheapest round trip to Europe is 120,000 points, business/first class is 200,000, or 270,000 for first class in a plane with actual first class that is separate from business. One business class round trip is not worth 1-2/3 coach round trips to me, I don't care if United claims the coach ticket is worth $1200 and the business class is worth $3000 or whatever. One first class round trip is also not worth 2-1/4 coach round trips, even if United's cash pricing puts it at 5 times the price of coach, or whatever.

For me a true first class ticket, assuming that means a seat that lays flat so I can sleep, might be worth maybe an extra $100-200. As I look at it as maybe that saves you from "wasting" a day recovering at your destination and an extra day means spending about that much. If it is just business class, meaning a few extra inches of leg room, that is worth about a buck-three-eighty to me.


Almost all intercontinental business class these days is fully lie flat seats, FWIW.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby jeffyscott » Fri May 03, 2013 7:33 pm

garg33 wrote:Almost all intercontinental business class these days is fully lie flat seats, FWIW.


I was not aware of that, but it appears that there is a difference between: "Full-flat beds" and "Slanted lay-flat seats"

http://www.ausbt.com.au/lie-flat-or-ful ... e-flat-lie

On the planes we happen to be taking on our next trip, only first class gets the good ones:
http://seatexpert.com/seatmap/207/Lufth ... _A340-600/
http://seatexpert.com/seatmap/199/Lufth ... g_747-400/
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby abuss368 » Fri May 03, 2013 7:54 pm

U Promise 529 rewards card.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby Greg17 » Sun May 05, 2013 2:01 pm

MnD wrote:]

http://thepointsguy.com/beginners-guide/

If you dig into this, things can get complicated in a hurry - for example how to "effectively" pay for things like mortgages, car payments and tuition bills with a cash back or points earning credit cards via a three step process involving a rewards credit card, debt reload cards and a prepaid debit card with bill pay service. :twisted:

http://thepointsguy.com/2012/12/maximiz ... he-basics/


I haven't heard of many mortgage companies that will take even a debit card. Am I missing something?
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby hsv_climber » Sun May 05, 2013 2:18 pm

Greg17 wrote:I haven't heard of many mortgage companies that will take even a debit card. Am I missing something?


Like MnD wrote - it is a 3-step process and there are some fees involved with some answers in his link.
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Re: The Points Guy

Postby MnD » Mon May 06, 2013 10:58 am

I went through every rewards program I participate in, got everything activated on-line that wasn't, and linked all I could to a rewards manager.
A couple obscure hotel programs were "deactivated" and I have to call, I'll bet the points are zero so I'll only activate those when/if I need them.
Got all the credit cards registered to my main airline shopping and dining programs. Doubt I'll use the shopping program much but might bag a few points here and there. I also cancelled my standing "opt-out" to pre-approved credit offers since targeted offers are often better than what is offered the general public.

I've got three card applications planned in the near term (one for me and two for her) which should net 125K miles (50K, 40K and 35K), that will get both our main airline FF accounts over the threshold for another set of first class Hawaii tickets as I still have 40K miles in my account. A mothers day brunch on the dining rewards program I just added will net a 1000 mile sign-up bonus, 5% cash back on the credit card I use plus 3 miles per dollar spent - not bad for probably a ~$40 tab. Turns out Avis has been screwing me on FF miles - they have the outdated premerger airline FF number in my profile, and claim my new number isn't valid so they can't enter it, which is baloney. :x
MnD
 
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