Wallet Go-to cards: American Express Everyday Preferred

While you can get boosts to your points and miles balances through sign up bonuses, we get a significant portion of our balances through everyday spending. Earning miles while buying groceries or gasoline is not most exciting part of this game but it is important to try and get the most out of your purchases. Paying attention to little things like this will help you build up with a nice stash of miles.

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American Express Everyday Preferred

We use the American Express Everyday Preferred to build our balance of Membership Rewards points (Membership Rewards is the name for the flexible reward points earned with American Express cards). There are 14 different airline and hotel programs to which you can transfer Membership Rewards points. Knowing what you can do with your points is important to get the most value from them. A very good description of the ways to use Membership Rewards points can be found at Travel Codex’s website, here.

I collect Membership Rewards because I find them to be very versatile. For example, for one of our trips, we transferred Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan (Air Canada’s program, which partners with United Airlines) and booked flights on United to New Jersey for Sharon’s birthday. Now, United doesn’t partner with American Express but there are many ways to use miles creatively, like we did using Aeroplan, if you are familiar with the different program partners.

I love this card because it gives a great return on most of our regular spending categories. It earns 3x points on supermarket spending (up to $6,000 each year) as well as 2x points on gas stations. It also rewards you for using it for “everyday” purchases. So if you use the card 30 or more times per billing period, you get a 50% points bonus on all points earned (that’s on both regular spending and the bonuses!). So at the end of the day, if you meet the 30 transaction threshold you will earn 1.5x points for all purchases, 3x points at gas stations, and 4.5x points for supermarket purchases.

Some things to remember about the bonus categories are that big box places like Target or Walmart don’t count as supermarkets and Warehouse Clubs like Sam’s Club and BJ’s don’t count for supermarket OR fuel purchases.  Purchases made outside the U.S. also don’t count for the bonus categories. If you use this card internationally you will pay an international fee, so it’s best to leave this card home when traveling outside the U.S.

This card isn’t one to wow people in with a huge sign up bonus. I mean, right now you can get 15,000 Membership Rewards points for spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of having the card. There is also a $95 annual fee, that is not waived. As I mentioned above, we do have this card so American Express will give us 5,000 points referral bonus if you sign up with our link. Let us know if you want to sign up and we can email the link to you.

Since Sharon will not take the time to remember which card to use for each category and she will not allow me to leave sticky notes on the cards in her wallet, I gladly give her this card for all her purchases. She does most of the supermarket shopping for the house so we are earning a bunch of points from that category. By using this card for her other everyday purchases, along with our other monthly subscription charges (i.e. Spotify, newspapers, etc.) it helps us meet the 30 transactions we need so we can earn.1.5x on everything we buy.

So big sign up bonuses are nice and give you a quick thrill but slow and steady earning without any extra effort is nice too.

#TBT: Alaska ’09 -Part 7 of 9

Part 7 of 9: Ketchikan – Salmon Fishing!

In August of 2009, I (Sharon) deserted my husband Joe and our puppy Dobby (at the time we had had her for about a month and a half) to go on a cruise to Alaska with the choir of which I was a member at the time (we were booked to sing on the ship). Some of my writing style has changed since 2009, some of my snark is exactly the same and heaven knows that cameras and photos have improved in the past 8 years, but here is the trip report I wrote about those adventures…the good, the bad and the ugly! To get up-to-date on the trip:

Part 1 – Arriving in Vancouver
Part 2 – On board and getting my bearings
Part 3 – Rehearsals and relaxing
Part 4 – Juneau – Nature Trails & Humpback Whales
Part 5 – Skagway – Walking on A Glacier and Taking A Train Ride to Canada
Part 6 – Day at Sea – Hangin’ Around the Ship, Enjoyin’ Doing’ Not much…

I woke up at 7:30am and had a breakfast of oatmeal with Rich, Chris, Jean and Pauline. We arrived in Ketchikan at 10am and, after talking to Joe for a little while, I was off the ship by 10:30am.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had about 90 minutes before I had to be at the bottom of the dock for my fishing trip, so I walked through the nearby crap shops and bought a sandwich at a Subway so I would have something to eat on the fishing boat.

Crap shopped out, I went back towards the cruise ship and met up with my fishing buddy around 11:45am or so. He said he had already found the office of the boat company and checked us in. I followed him back to the office so I could buy my fishing license (a 1-day license is $20) and so we could wait for the other fishing people. They finally arrived, got registered etc., and after prodding through some unexpected housework (one of the boards they planned to use – not ours – had broken down so they had to add 2 more people to our boat), were on our way! There were 7 of us all together – a married couple from Palm Springs CA, two gay guys (one from CA and one who split his time between CO and NY), my fishing buddy and I and, of course, the captain.

I used to go deep sea fishing on party boards out of Sheepshead Bay (Brooklyn) with my dad every summer, starting from when I was 6 and up until I was 15 or 16, when I decided I didn’t want to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning and have my hands smell like fish for 3 days. So it had been a long, long time. I also had never gone salmon fishing before and the rules were a little different – the boat captain set up 6 fishing poles and each one of us had a number (I was #1, my fishing buddy was #6 and the rest were all between). When any rod looked like it had a bite, we would take turns in numerical order – so I had first try, then #2 did, then #3, etc. Once all 6 of us had had a chance to catch a fish, we started again from #@1. If you had a fish on the line and it got away, it was your loss. But if you reeled it in and it turned out to be a false alarm (another line, for example), you were still “up.” It was a fair system, with a limit of 6 fish per person. We didn’t get even close to that, though – all together our bot caught 11 salmon – 10 silvers and 1 coho (cohos are bigger than silvers). Of the 11, I lost my first one and then caught 3, and my fishing buddy caught 2 and lost 2 (but his 2nd one was big – probably the biggest silver caught all day).

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Besides the fun of the fishing, we also got to see several bald eagles in the nearby trees on shore, and well as some whales in the ocean. VERY cool! The weather during our 4-hour trip varied from comfortable (partly cloudy, unzipped light jacket) to rainy and chilly.

When it was time to go back to the ship, the captain gave us the forms to fill out to have our fish filleted, flash frozen and shipped, if we so desired. The 2 guys hadn’t had a very good day of fishing and between the two of them, only had caught 1 or 2 fish (one of which was the coho). They said the other 4 of us could have their fish if we wanted, so we agreed to just split the 11 fish 50/50. My fishing buddy and I made plans so he would receive the fish and bring my share to rehearsal. We’ll probably see it towards the end of the month, or perhaps early September.

What a fun, FUN time it was, though! Of everything I had planned for this vacation, going salmon fishing was the thing I was looking forward to the most, even more than singing on the ship…and I’m happy to say it met all of my expectations! I had forgotten how much I enjoyed fishing!

As always (and probably even more so after today’s excitement), I was exhausted by the time dinner was over, so after doing the jigsaw puzzle in the Exploration Cafe for an hour or so, I went to bed around midnight.
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Are you giving away your personal information?

It seems that almost everyone has a story about their email being hacked, credit card number being stolen or even worse, their identity being used.

Remember this the next time you want to post a picture like this to your Instagram.

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Pictures or it didn’t happen, right? This was from a trip back in 2014 when I was all too happy to show off about flying from Melbourne to Bangkok to anyone who could see my Facebook. I was just reading “6 Shocking Reasons NOT to Post Pictures of Your Boarding Pass” by Million Mile Secrets about how by posting your boarding pass barcode you are giving a whole bunch of info to anyone who can use an online barcode reader (I didn’t even know you could do that until I read this article).  I found this picture and uploaded it here. What do you know, there was my info (I’ve since blurred the barcode on the picture). With that simple information someone could go and cancel your flights, change your seats or even get into your frequent flyer account and steal your points.

Just one more thing to remember before you overshare on social media sites. Don’t make it easier than it already is for someone to get your personal information.

 

Should you pay your taxes by credit card?

It’s tax season. It’s nice when you’re able to get a refund but unfortunately, sometimes you have to pay Uncle Sam his cut. Sharon and I have paid our taxes with a credit card for the last 2 years, as it’s really a good way to work towards a spending goal for a sign up bonus or to buy miles. I’ve used my Starwood card for this purpose, to increase my balance there.

This article from One Mile At A Time gives a good walk through of your different options. Take a look at it before you do your taxes this year and let me know if it works for you!

The cool thing we did on a layover in Dublin

I was reading a post on Points With A Crew that asked the question:

Can you leave the airport during a layover?

I knew the answer was yes, because we did just that while on our way to London last year. We had a stop in Dublin and the original flight plan only had us there for 1 hour before boarding our flight to London. Knowing from past experiences that our hotel in London was not likely to have our room ready before check in time, I figured we’d rather spend time in Dublin than sit in a hotel in London.

So I scheduled our connecting flight so we had approximately 8 hours in Dublin. Looking at websites, it seemed that even if we were just connecting in Ireland, we’d still have to go through immigration. Since we’d have to do that anyway, why not stay in the country for a while. It was a bit interesting to tell the immigration officer we would be there for 8 hours, mainly for lunch (and yes, we really did).

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Gallagher’s Boxty House – our destination for lunch. We had visited in 2011 and it was so good that we wanted to go  back again!

Before our trip I found a place where we could leave our luggage at the airport for a small fee. After checking our bags we hopped into a taxi to get into town and asked to be dropped off at the Westin Dublin. It was the hotel we stayed in the last time we visited and it was a landmark we knew, so it was easy to find from everyplace we wanted to go from there. So what else do you do on a short layover in Dublin? Well, there was the obvious…

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Not all of Dublin is scenic; some of it looks like this. The sign reads, “Here is not a toilet! PLEASE do not pee or sh*t in here. Thanks!” I’m glad they were polite about it, at least.

But no, that’s not what we did (although we certainly could have). I don’t know what you would do, but for us, our itinerary was:

  1. Get Starbucks
  2. Pick up some souvenirs at a touristy shop in Temple Bar
  3. As mentioned above, go to lunch at Gallaghers Boxty House because yeah, it’s really THAT GOOD
  4. Try to find the Leprechaun Museum
  5. End up at a shopping mall (long story for another time)
  6. Head back to the Westin for a taxi back to the airport
  7. Check in and spend time at the Aer Lingus lounge before your flight to London
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Looking at the planes while waiting for our flight at the Aer Lingus lounge in Dublin
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Sharon at Gallagher’s Boxty House in 2011. 

This was most surely something we did just because we could. By no means did we get to see much of Dublin at all, nor had we planned to. Between the 2 taxi rides and the charge to store luggage, it was not a cheap excursion, either. However, we had specific places we wanted to go and for that reason it was worth it to us. Now that I’ve done it, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it as a way to see a new city. But if you’re stuck at the airport anyway for a long connection, I’d say it’s certainly possible.  Just follow the hints mentioned in the Points With A Crew article I linked above.

As long as you give yourself enough time, know the rules, and pack accordingly, you should have no problems leaving the airport during a layover to enjoy time in a (potentially) new city.

 

#TBT: Sharon’s 2009 Alaska Cruise – Part 6 of 9

Part 6 of 9: Day at Sea – Hangin’ Around the Ship, Enjoyin’ Doing’ Not Much…

In August of 2009, I (Sharon) deserted my husband Joe and our puppy Dobby (at the time we had had her for about a month and a half) to go on a cruise to Alaska with the choir of which I was a member at the time (we were booked to sing on the ship). Some of my writing style has changed since 2009, some of my snark is exactly the same and heaven knows that cameras and photos have improved in the past 8 years, but here is the trip report I wrote about those adventures…the good, the bad and the ugly! To get up-to-date on the trip:

Part 1 – Arriving in Vancouver
Part 2 – On board and getting my bearings
Part 3 – Rehearsals and relaxing
Part 4 – Juneau – Nature Trails & Humpback Whales
Part 5 – Skagway – Walking on a Glacier & Taking A Train to Canada

Today was very much a “do nothing” day. It was a day at sea with no rehearsals, no spa appointments, no nuthin’! That alone was wonderful. I made sure to NOT set my alarm and so, of course, after going to bed at 10:30pm, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed at 7:00am (I swear Dobby is channeling me or something).

Breakfast was an Egg Beaters omelette at the Lido buffet, after which time I walked around the ship and took pictures of the various lounges, dining rooms, pool areas, etc.

I next plopped my butt into a chair at the Exploration cafe and, except for having lunch with Antony, Colin, (Lord) James and (Lady) Brenda, pretty much spent the whole day there.

We went through Glacier Bay and I watched the glacier from my chair.

 

I took a nap in my chair (sorry, no pictures).

I updated my blog in my chair (still couldn’t post – I fixed one technical problem and gained another).

I liked my chair.

I finally got up to change clothes around 5:45pm, bidding my chair goodbye.

Our choir was scheduled to meet in the Atrium at 7:15pm for a group photo in our formalwear. I got there by 6:30pm, ordered a drink and hung out, people watching until some of the others arrived. It’s not so easy to get 50-something people organized but we did it in pretty decent time.

Dinner was, of course, very good. Since it was our “big” formal night, they had their “special” dinners – I got the surf and turf, which was fine – the lobster was good, the steak was OK. The side dishes and desserts were starting to meld into one big respectful side dish and dessert, with none of them particularly spectacular or memorable (the food on Holland America, in general, fell into that category…none was bad, but none was stupendous either. Just “adequate”).

As always, I was exhausted by the time we were done with dinner and I went almost straight to sleep. What an old fart I’m turning into!
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What’s the difference between earning flexible points, fixed value points, airline miles, hotel points or cash?

Before you start earning miles and points from your credit cards, it’s really important to know what type of points you are earning. There are several types of reward miles/points that banks offer and they can be most easily be divided into four categories:

  • Transferrable (Flexible) Points
  • Airline Miles and Hotel Points
  • Fixed Value Points
  • Cash Back

I’ll go over some of the basics for each of these points below:

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Transferrable (Flexible) Points

There are three banks that give these type of points:

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Citi Thank You Points

These points are the most desirable ones to collect for miles and points enthusiasts because of their flexibility. You earn them in your account and can hold them until you have a use for them. You can then transfer them to the program which is most beneficial to you at the time.

With each type of point, you have a number of different transfer partners specific to each program. This is to your advantage because if you have points in each program, you have a multitude of options open to you when you need to book travel. More options means you are likely to be able to book the trip that you want, when you want, for the lowest price. These are the big three of points redemptions (Where, When and How Much).  Therefore, collecting each of these points is best if you do not have a set redemption in mind because this way you are not locked into a single airline’s or hotel’s points program.

The downside of these type of points is that in order to transfer points, you usually have to hold a premium card with an annual fee. You also need to keep your account open (and pay the annual fee) to keep your points. If you decide close your account and still have your points sitting there, you will lose them. Losing points is one of the big no-no’s of collecting miles and points. You can stop this from happening (transferring them before closing the account is one way) but you always need to keep that in mind.

Airline Miles and Hotel Points

The way these type of cards work is usually easier to understand. When you earn points or miles with airline or hotel credit cards, they are deposited directly into your account with that program (not with the bank). Some of the most common programs with credit cards are:

  • American Aadvantage Miles
  • Delta Skymiles
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • United Mileage Plus
  • Hilton Honors
  • Marriott Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guest

There are many other programs with offers for their own credit card that earns points or miles. If you tend to fly a specific airline, having their co-branded card can have its advantages. Besides earning miles/points in the respective programs, these credit cards often provide additional benefits such as free checked bags or preferred boarding on airlines or free internet or upgraded room at hotels.

The benefit of earning miles/points with credit cards with these programs is that if you cancel the credit card, you do not lose the points as they are already deposited in your program account. You only need to keep your account active with the airline or hotel (each program has its own specific requirements to do so) to keep from losing your miles.

The disadvantage is that your points/miles are locked into that program. So if that airline/hotel has no availability where you want to go, too bad.

The one hotel program which has additional benefits is Starwood Preferred Guest. With their program, you are allowed to transfer your hotel points from your account to several airline programs (some of which have no other transfer partners). When you transfer points into airline miles, you get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer. This perk makes Starwood points extremely valuable. Many miles/points websites consider Starpoints a flexible point currency instead of hotel points.

Fixed Value Points

By far, these are the easiest points for people to understand. You earn points which are worth a fixed value. Usually  1-2 cents a point. So if you want to book an airline ticket worth $200 and your points are worth 1 cent each, you’ll need 20,000 points. The credit cards that work like this include but are not limited to:

  • Capital One Venture (The one Jennifer Garner does commercials for)
  • Bank of America Worldpoints
  • Wells Fargo Rewards
  • Barclaycard Arrival Miles
  • US Bank Flexperks

These points are easy to use because if there is a ticket available, you can most likely use your points to pay for it. You either have to book tickets through the program’s travel portal or book the ticket/room yourself and apply your balance to cover the payment on your statement, depending on the program. Check with the particular program to make sure how it works before making any reservations.

You believe Jennifer Garner, don’t you? With the ease of redeeming these points, it would seem that they would be the most preferable ones to collect. That may be true if you are only looking to book low cost domestic airfare. It is true that availability with airline miles can be difficult to find for flights within the US. But with fixed value points, if there is a seat available, you can use your points to pay for it. This can serve a purpose in a diversified portfolio of points, it has limitations.

The disadvantage is that you can only get a fixed value for your redemption. Most travelers don’t get into collecting miles and points to redeem them for inexpensive domestic flights. The value in points/miles is using them for something you usually couldn’t pay cash for. Something like that business class ticket to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower. If that ticket cost $2500 cash, you’d need 250,000 fixed value points to get it. As of today, using Delta Skymiles would only cost you 140,000 miles (if you can find availability).

Fixed Value travel cards aren’t very popular because of a similar credit card product which is available and has more advantages.

Cash Back Cards

Cash is still king. When earning Flexible points, Airline miles, Hotel points or Fixed Value points, you always need to remember than you could have been earning cash back instead.

It is very easy to understand a cash back card. Some of the most popular cards are

  • Citi Double Cash
  • Fidelity Rewards
  • Discover It Cash
  • American Express Blue Cash
  • Capital One Quicksilver (the one Samuel L. Jackson sells)
  • Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Citi Double Cash card and the Fidelity Rewards card both earn 2% cash back on all purchases. Citi pays 1% when you make the charge and 1% when you pay the bill. Fidelity pays the 2% back as a deposit into your Fidelity account (so it helps if you already do some banking or investing with them). The Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5% back on all purchases.

The Discover It, American Express Blue Cash and Chase Freedom all earn back 1% on most purchases. They also have bonus categories where you can earn additional money back in certain categories like restaurants, gas and groceries. Both the Chase Freedom cards also have the advantage of that if you have an another Chase Ultimate Rewards card that earns flexible points, you can transfer your Freedom points to that account. When you do that, the cash back points transform into flexible points.

Comparing a cash back card to a fixed value card, you see that since you can earn at least 2% on any purchase, only earning 1% back on a fixed value card just doesn’t make sense.

Conclusion

So which points should you collect? That does depend on what travel goals you have. I personally have a combination of all of these cards except for a fixed value card. Most of my spending goes onto cards with flexible points (including Starwood points). I do have a cash back card which I use to maximize bonus categories as I value 5% cash back more than any point I could earn. Your Mileage May Vary on which card or combination of cards works the best for you. Understanding the difference between the types of points or miles you can earn with credit cards allows you make an informed choice when deciding which ones to apply for …and now you know.