Success with manufactured spending in Providence, RI

I spent much of the past week in Providence, RI at a professional development workshop learning some new coding skills for the computer science class that I teach. During that time I decided to take a first real stab at manufactured spending and had some wonderful success.

For those unaware of the term, manufactured spending means using your credit card to somehow buy an item (therefore earning points/miles on said credit card), then somehow liquidating that item back into your bank account to pay off the credit card debt you just accrued. I have done it once or twice before in NYC and it is notoriously difficult to liquidate some of the items you can buy. The one method I have heard of working very well was using gift cards to purchase money orders, specifically at a Walmart, where fees are low and opportunity is high.

So, I took this knowledge and put it into action. While staying at the Providence Marriott Downtown, I used the fact that I have a Chase Ink Cash card that earns me 5x the points when purchasing items at office supplies stores to buy loads of Visa gift cards at the Staples just across the street. Then, I took a nice walk to the local Walmart to buy money orders with those gift cards.

The fees involved were not that bad. To buy a $200 gift card at Staples costs $6.95 in fees each and to buy a money order at Walmart is $0.88 for up to a $2000 money order. In total, I was spending $28.68 to earn 4,139 points. So, if you do the math, it cost me roughly 0.69 cents for each point that I earned. Since The Points Guy values each of them at around 2.0 cents for each point, I did quite a good job getting some new value. Not too shabby for a first real try.

The big question now is whether or not I can duplicate this process in Brooklyn. I already know where to get the gift cards (Staples nearby me) but when I’ve tried to find a source to liquidate near me I have come up short. I know there is a Walmart in New Jersey and one in Long Island that are public transit accessible, but it still adds cost. Still searching!

Using Priority Pass restaurant money instead of lounge access

My wife and I are currently on a trip to Australia and for the first time ever are in an airport without a priority pass lounge but, instead, with access to a public restaurantat a steep discount. Priority Pass has started to branch out and forge relationships with restaurants in various airport to provide credit for its users to use if there is no accessible lounge. Today, we had access to Bar Roma, a restaurant in the Domestic Terminal, to the tune of $36 AUD each! That’s a lot of food – we only use $57in the end, and that was trying!

I’m impressed with how efficiently this process worked. Much like at other Priority Pass lounges they had a small terminal to use to scan our card and they reviewed our boarding passes to make sure we had a flight leaving today. It was so easy to order and the food was quite tasty to boot. Thanks for saving us money, Priority Pass!

 

 

JetBlue Plus Card in-flight savings benefit

Most people know that airline-affiliated cards provided certain benefits for those taking flights of particular carriers. This usually means a reduced (or no) checked baggage fee and some kind of priority boarding. This has become even more relevant as larger airlines are beginning to try to squeeze even more revenue out of their customers (Air Canada and Westjet, plus JetBlue, for example).

So, it is nice when an extra benefit comes in handy. When my wife and I were traveling home from San Francisco recently we were late arriving to the airport so we didn’t have enough time to get sufficient food for the 5 hour journey. Instead, we relied on the food provided by JetBlue. It wasn’t just the free snacks that held us over, it was the tremendous amount of food in the Eat Up Boxes that gave us the meals that we wanted in-flight. And, since we have the JetBlue Plus Mastercard, the costs was literally cut in half.

As reflected on my most recent credit card statement, instead of spending $46 for this food (which would be a pretty absurd price), we spent $23 (something more reasonable). While I don’t want to rely on this in the future, it is nice to know that it is an option.

Citi Prestige Trip Cancellation Benefit doesn’t cover miles refunds

In an attempt to recoup the value of a ticket my wife and I had to cancel I called the phone number on the back of our Citi Prestige card in order to file a trip cancellation refund request. We had used the card to pay the taxes on a mileage trip on Korean Airlines, whose generous refund rules allow you to recoup much of your losses for not that much money (miles, actually). That being said, they still deduct miles in order to process the refund according to this chart:

So, due to the international nature of our travel we each lost 3,000 Korean Air Skypass miles in the transaction (and we got the rest back, including the taxes). So, when I called Citi, I wasn’t necessarily expecting anything magical, but I was hoping they would refund some kind of dollar value of the 6,000 miles that we lost. Turns out the answer is no. They don’t refund miles. I’ve been a happy customer of Citi Prestige for a while and love all their insurance benefits but it turns out this one they don’t help with. It’s not that big a deal – 6,000 miles is a small price to pay to get everything back easily, but it’s annoying.

Good to know for the future, though, I’m sure.

Plaza Premium Temporary Lounge in Toronto leaves something to be desired

On the way home from Toronto on Monday I was ready to spend some relaxing time in the Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 1 of the Toronto Pearson Airport. My wife, sister, and brother were all with me and we would get some free food, drinks, and nice bathrooms to tide over the hour we had to wait for the plane. Unfortunately, we were greeted by this banner upon getting through customs on our way to the lounge.

Apparently the lounge is going through renovation and so we were only able to get access to a temporary lounge using the Priority Pass Select membership granted to us by the Citi Prestige card that my wife and I hold.

The lounge is located essentially in what should be the regular seating area between gates F55 and F57. Instead, they have put up some partitions, placed some higher-quality chairs, and set up a buffet with some food. There were more limited selections than usual but the food was tasty. They also had a variety of drinks, although a smaller variety than normal. The one major gripe that my family and I had was the the power ports on the chairs were taped over and disconnected from any kind of power source.

We spent about 45 minutes waiting in the lounge and enjoying the food and drink. It was definitely better than paying for food and the chairs had nicer cushions, but this is not the kind of lounge I am used to at this point in my travel career. I hope they complete renovations quickly so that the next visit we have to Toronto has a better lounge for us to access.

Chase Freed 5x Bonus Category for Q4

Every three months the Chase Freedom card rotates a set of 5% cash back bonuses for spending at specific types of stores. For Quarter 3 (i.e. summer months) it was restaurants and movie theaters, presumably because of the increase in number of people who go out during that time frame. You can always check out the bonuses at their website here. 

The aspect of this scenario that many people don’t know, however, is that if you have a premium Ultimate Rewards card from Chase (i.e. Chase Sapphire Preferred/Reserve, or Ink Plus Preferred) then you can transfer those points to travel partners and potentially earn more than the standard 1 point = 1 cent ratio. When I transfer points I do my best to beat their current valuation, with normal redemptions for award travel being between 1.6-2.5 cents per point.

Make sure to activate your Q4 bonuses now in case you plan on spending at department stores this fall!

Utilizing the IHG Free Reward Night to its utmost

I am a part of a wonderful math teacher fellowship called Math for America (not to be confused with Teach for America) and every year they host an annual gala event at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Manhattan. For the past two years I’ve thought about staying over but either a) didn’t have enough points or b) the free night as part of the Chase Marriott Rewards card was not for that tier of hotel.

Enter: the IHG Rewards Credit Card. Every year it gives a free reward night for use anywhere in the world. There is not the same kind of limitation as with the Marriott card. So, I found the InterContinental Hotel around the corner from the gala and booked a night there. As you can see, for the night in question it would have been a whopping $629.99!

Instead, we are paying $0. The card itself has a $49 annual fee, so I would argue this makes it all worth it.

Even if we didn’t have the card, we would probably use that night somewhere else during the year for a wedding or small trip somewhere. It definitely makes the $49 worth it.

Amtrak Mastercard back to 30,000 point bonus

Normally the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard has a 20,000 point bonus after $1,000 of spending in the first three months (as seen below, compared to the Platinum version of the same card):

Right now, thought, there is an increased bonus option that will earn you 10,000 points more for the same cost (total of 30,000 points). My wife just applied and was accepted for the card – something I’m very grateful for as we travel between Providence, RI and Philadelphia, PA pretty frequently. Since you can often find deals within the Northeast corridor for only 2-3k points those extra 10,000 will go a long way.

I’ve recently been thinking of cancelling mine and getting another one to get the bonus again. If I do, I’ll take a closer look at some of the rules for re-applying as it seems Bank of America has changed them in the past.

Jet Blue Plus anniversary bonus: awesome!

I was pleased to see this image in my inbox this morning:

Some may not know that the JetBlue Plus card comes with a variety of benefits: a sign-up bonus of 30,000 points, 6X the points when you pay for JetBlue plane tickets outright, as well as your first checked luggage free of charge. What some may not remember or realize is that you also get 5,000 points at each anniversary! As The Points Guy values these points at 1.2 cents/point, that means you are getting back $60 of worth back every year. So, essentially, after flying roundtrip only once per year this card because completely worth it.

I recently had the pleasure of booking a number of flights to/from Florida in the Fall and only spent around $30 in taxes + fees because of this card. I’m definitely keeping it for next year!

Baggage delay can ruin your time

As mentioned in the previous post my wife and I had a very unfortunate experience on our recent trip to South Africa: due to what I can only imagine to be many mistakes and misunderstandings over the course of five days our luggage did not arrive safely into the country when we did. Instead, we had to wait five full days (and spend much time during those days buying necessities) in order to get our bags back.

My general theory of what happened is what follows.

When we left the US we arrived at JFK airport with about an hour until our flight was scheduled to leave on its way to Vienna. We barely made it to the check-in counter in time but our large, filled-to-the-brim blue bag was accepted and checked onto the flights that would eventually end up in Johannesburg. During the 29 hour journey we had two carry-ons containing extra clothes due to our nine hour layover in Cairo. I had wanted to shower and change before our final flight to South Africa so we planned to shower and change beforehand.

Upon arrival into JNB airport we went through the exceedingly-long customs line until we were allowed to enter the country, only to find that the blue bag we were hoping to see on the other end was nowhere in sight. We waited for 10 minutes as the belt kept moving and then made our way to the EgyptAir luggage support services people who took me for a walk around the baggage claim area in search of the bag that supposedly took a different flight path (via Frankfurt) instead of boarding our plane with us. We couldn’t find it.

So for five full days my wife and I relied on the baggage delay insurance covered to us by the Citi Prestige card we used to pay the taxes on our award ticket from to South Africa. Due to an update in their rules we did not have to book the entire flight’s cost on the card – even partial payment would allow the coverage below to kick in:

While not as good as the Chase Sapphire Preferred in this regard (that offers $100 per day up to five days), it does provide you with some money to get supplies that you need. We did spend over that amount and so I also filed a claim for reimbursement from the airline itself. I am currently waiting to hear back from both entities on what we can get back from them.

In the end we had to buy clothing, toiletries, medicine, and a whole new piece of luggage to carry it all on our flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. I am a patient man and will make sure to get every dollar we spent back or make sure no one flies with this airline ever again…