What’s So Great About the Starwood Amex 35K Sign-Up Bonus?

starwood hotel

People seem to just lose it whenever the Amex Starwood Preferred Guest credit card comes with an increased sign-up bonus, such as the 35k offer currently available until early April.

At first glance, you might notice that the sign-up bonus on the SPG card is quite low compared to other credit card offers out there.

After all, there are many other credit cards that come with 80k, 100k, or even 150k sign-up bonuses. So why should we all go nuts when SPG raises their sign-up bonus to a measly 35,000 points?

Is 35,000 SPG Points an Amazing Offer?

Well, for one, it’s the highest sign-up bonus they’ve ever offered on the card, though the minimum spending requirement might be a little bit higher as well.

At the moment, American Express is offering an increased 35,000 Starpoints when you spend $5,000 in the first six months of account opening.

Broken down, it’s 25,000 Starpoints when you spend $3,000 in the first three months, and an additional 10,000 Starpoints if you can muster another $2,000 within the first six months.

The offer is only available until April 5th, 2017, meaning you have to make a decision in the next couple months if you haven’t taken advantage before.

Assuming you spend the required total of $5,000, you’ll wind up with 40,000 Starpoints, which is apparently pretty good for this lucrative credit card currency.

The sign-up bonus is usually only 25,000 points, so you’re getting a big bump on a percentage increase basis (40% bump to be exact), though it’s only another 10k points.

However, these points can go pretty far, or at least further than other award currencies, such as Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards.

One Redemption Idea for 40,000 Starpoints

For example, you get a transfer rate of 1:3 from SPG to Marriott, which is now owned by Starwood. So those 40,000 Starpoints equate to 120,000 Marriott Rewards points.

That’s well above the 80,000 Marriott Rewards points you can earn through the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase, or the business version of the card. Both would only net you 83,000 points after spending the required $3,000 in the first three months.

So we know right there that SPG points are indeed a valuable currency. And if you happen to have Chase Ultimate Rewards points lying around, you can get 5 free nights at a category 8 Marriott hotel, such as the beautifully updated Wailea Beach Resort in Maui.

Hotels in category 8 will set you back 40,000 Marriott points per night, but if you book four consecutive nights, you get the fifth night free.

In other words, if you have 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points that you can transfer over to Marriott along with your 40,000 Starpoints, you’ll wind up with 160,000 Marriott points.

Hello free vacation in Maui for five nights! And you only burned through 40,000 UR points in the process, which isn’t bad seeing that Chase is constantly throwing 100k and 80k offers our way.

Starpoint Airline Transfer Bonus

Another special benefit to Starpoints is the transfer bonus they enjoy when sent to participating frequent flyer programs. For every 20,000 you transfer, you get a 5,000 bonus, all year-round.

Put simply, 20,000 Starpoints equals 25,000 frequent flyer miles – oh, and they have the most airline partners of any credit card issuer, including some carriers that require very few miles to go long distances.

What’s special about the 35k bonus offer is the fact that you get 40k Starpoints after spending the required $5,000, which is enough for two 20k transfers to airlines.

If you transfer all 40,000 Starpoints earned via the 35k sign-up bonus offer, you’ll get 50,000 frequent flyer miles.

Typically, you’d have 30,000 Starpoints and you could transfer 20k for a 5k bonus, but then you’d only have 10k remaining, which wouldn’t receive the 25% bonus (has to be 20k increments).

Actually, you can get even more miles than that if there happens to be an SPG transfer bonus going on. One recent example was American Airlines providing a 20% transfer bonus.

That meant you could transfer 20,000 Starpoints to AA and receive the standard 5,000 transfer bonus, plus another 20% bonus on top of that, for an additional 5,000 AA miles.

All said, you’d get 30,000 AA miles for the price of 20,000 Starpoints. If you transferred all 40,000 Starpoints, you’d get 60,000 AA miles.

As you can see, the value of the SPG bonus can be a lot better than it looks once you factor in all the special perks of Starpoints.

Aside from frequent flyer and hotel transfers, you can always use the Starpoints for Starwood hotel stays as well, with some good value depending on the category. Certain developing countries have low-category hotels that are still quite nice, and you can use the cash & points option to stretch your points even more.

The icing on the cake is the fact that the annual fee of $95 is waived on the card the first year, meaning you might be able to get 60,000 frequent flyer miles without paying a dime in credit card fees. And the spending requirement is pretty reasonable.

You just have to be smart with redemptions, and avoid options that don’t maximize the value of these special points.

Pro tip: Don’t transfer Starpoints to airline partners that offer a less than 1:1 ratio, including United, Air New Zealand, GOL Airlines, and LATAM Airlines.

(photo: Matt@PEK)

How Barclaycard Arrival Travel Redemptions Actually Work


File this under tricky, or at first glance, confusing. If you recently hit the minimum spend on your Barclaycard Arrival Plus MasterCard, you might be wondering how best to maximize those lucrative travel credits.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a manual on how to do it provided by Barclaycard, you’re just told you can redeem for travel statement credits “starting at 10,000 miles.”

Where it gets murky is the “starting at” part – in reality, the minimum redemptions are usually a lot higher if you’ve made large travel purchases, which makes it appear as if you’re getting a raw deal.

Let’s look at an example of this to illustrate what might seem like a misleading redemption policy.

Say you spent $3,000+ on the card and received your 50,000 bonus miles. You’re now around 56,000 total miles thanks to the 2X on all purchases plus the bonus.

Kudos to Barclaycard for applying those miles to your account literally the minute your purchase that surpassed $3,000 hit your account. That’s a big plus – no waiting period or wondering if you hit the minimum spend. The miles are just there instantly!

Where It Gets Confusing

minimum redemption

When you go to the travel statement credit area of their rewards page, you’ll see any qualifying travel purchases listed that you can redeem miles against.

But when you click on the “redeem now” button, you’ll probably be presented with a minimum number of miles that is well above 10,000, despite this being the number Barclaycard advertises.

In our case, the minimum redemption for a $393.90 purchase was 32,500 when the miles balance was around 56,000, more than triple the stated 10,000 minimum. What gives?!

Well, it’s unclear what gives to be honest, and it’s somewhat annoying because it might lead someone to believe they’ll be stuck with an insufficient amount of miles if they choose that high redemption.

Assuming they cash in 32,500 miles, they’ll have somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 miles remaining, which if the minimum is once again a seemingly arbitrary 32,500, they’d fall short.

So they’d either need to spend more to get more miles, or make a new purchase around $250 that the system recognizes as travel and generates a lower redemption number, such as 25,000.

In reality, this isn’t necessary, though you wouldn’t know it until you took that leap of faith and redeemed your miles on an initial travel purchase.

After redeeming 37,500 miles (which was another option above the 32,500 minimum), the minimum mile redemption was lower on subsequent redemptions. But again, this wasn’t known until that first redemption was finalized. So a cardholder might not know they’ll be able to redeem for a lesser amount.

As you can see from the screenshot above, the redemption minimum dropped to 15,000 miles on a different $393.90 travel purchase once the miles balance dropped to around 22,000, which while still above the oft-quoted 10,000 minimum, is manageable with the remaining miles in the account.

Our hypothetical cardholder can now redeem 20,000 of their ~22,000 remaining miles (they redeemed 37,500 the first go around) and wind up with only about 2,000 unused miles stuck in their account, unable to be redeemed until they reach 10,000 again.

Getting Nearly $600 in Value Fast

In total, the redemptions equate to $575 in travel credits, which is a good deal for a card that doesn’t charge an annual fee the first year, and only requires $3,000 in spending.

travel credits

The trick is making sure you actually spend $500+ on travel so you can redeem your miles for their maximum value, as opposed to cash.

It would be nice to know that your minimum redemption amount will automatically reset LOWER once you make your first travel redemption. But there’s literally no way of knowing what that magic number will be as it’s not set at 10,000 in many cases.

Oh, We Get It Now…Maybe

25 increments

Update: We figured it out, we think.

There was another situation where there were around 57,000 miles in the account and a few travel purchases we could redeem against.

One of the travel purchases was over $1,000, and it appears if you don’t have the miles to erase the entire purchase, it will only let you redeem in $25 increments.

That meant we could redeem at maximum of 55,000 miles for $550 value, but that would have left a random, and more importantly, insufficient amount of miles leftover for another redemption.

So we did some math and realized if we redeemed 10,000 miles first for a smaller ~$100 purchase, we’d wind up with more than 47,500 miles remaining. That just so happens to be enough to get over the next $25 threshold on a subsequent redemption.

most miles used

Returning to the $1000 transaction, we could now redeem 47,500 miles for $475 in value.

All told, that meant we got $575 in travel credit as opposed to just $550.

575 total

The moral of the story is this. For whatever reason, Barclays doesn’t seem to let you redeem all your miles unless it will cover the entire travel purchase.

If it’s less than the full amount, you apparently have to redeem in $25 increments. That means you need to do the math first to see how best to maximize your miles.

(photo: Ethan Lofton)

The Cash Value of Credit Card Points and Miles

cash register

Most blogs, bloggers, credit card websites, etc. value credit card currencies, such as points and miles, at a certain amount based on what they think you can squeeze out of them.

For example, a recent TPG post valued Chase Ultimate Rewards at 2.1 cents each, whereas MileValue values UR at a flat 2 cents each.

The thing with all these valuations is that it depends what you actually use the miles for, and what the cost would be to just pay for those redemptions out of pocket instead.

In the real world, it’s not all that helpful to place a value on points because there are so many different combinations and outcomes that it’d be impossible to sum it all up in one single point value.

But forget about all that. Let’s just focus on how much points are worth if you simply cash them in, for, well, cash.

We’re talking a check or direct deposit to your bank account, or a statement credit. Not a trip on an airline, a hotel stay, or an iPad.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Are Worth a Penny in Cash

chase cash back

While the valuations can definitely be higher if redeemed for travel, if you simply want cash for your Ultimate Rewards you’ll get a penny apiece.

In other words, if you have 104,000 Ultimate Rewards points thanks to that massive Chase Sapphire Reserve bonus, you’d be able to cash them in for $1,040. And yes, you can have that money direct deposited into any of your associated accounts in three business days.

Someone might say you’re a fool for doing so, but if you want cash, and only cash, Chase makes it easy and doesn’t give you a hard time about it. The minimum redemption is $20, but you can take out odd amounts (see above) for the full balance if you wish.

Cash Value of American Express Membership Points Varies

When it comes to American Express, it’s not so simple. They allow you to redeem your Membership Rewards points for cash, but only via a statement credit or an American Express gift card. Both aren’t truly “cash,” but we can still assign a clear value.

The bad news is they aren’t worth a penny apiece. In fact, they’re worth quite a bit less. If you redeem them for an Amex gift card, which can be used like cash anywhere Amex is accepted as payment, you’re looking at .50 cents for each point.

So 100,000 Membership Rewards points have a cash value of just $500. If you’re keeping track, that’s half the value of Ultimate Rewards points.

If you opt for a statement credit to erase some purchases you already made, you’ll get a slightly better .60 cents for each point. In this case, 100,000 MR points are worth $600, but only to cover purchases you already made.

Discover Miles Are Worth 1 Cent Each

miles cash back

If you happen to have the Discover it Miles card, the math is also very simple. A mile is worth a penny.

However, the card earns 1.5 “miles” per dollar, making the effective cash back rate 1.5% on all purchases.

And like Chase, redemption is a snap. You can request a direct deposit online, and perhaps more importantly, there’s no minimum redemption. Yes, you can get a redemption as low as $1.57 (or lower) if you so choose.

Redeem Citi ThankYou Points for Cash

citi cash back

Then we have Citi and their ThankYou Points, which probably won’t make you feel very thankful if you cash them in for, cash.

That’s right, Citi ThankYou Points (TYP) are worth just half a cent (0.50) each when redeeming for cash, which is a pretty awful valuation. You get the option of requesting a check or applying them as a statement credit.

If you want a check, the minimum redemption is 10,000 TYP for $50. You can also request a $100 check for 20,000 TYP. Either way, not a great deal.

Alternatively, you can request statement credits for as few as 2,000 TYP points for $10. So you get more flexibility, but still a poor valuation.

One “trick” around this is to request a check to pay down a mortgage or student loan – they’ll give you a value of one cent per point if you do this, and they just make out a check to the bank you tell them. That’s double the value.

Barclaycard Miles Cash Value Is 0.525 Cents

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus earns 2X miles on all purchases. There is an option to redeem for a cash back statement credit with a minimum redemption of 5,000 miles for $25.

Effectively, that means you earn 1% cash back because you get 2X miles on all purchases and the ratio is 2:1 for cash back rewards. But wait, there’s more. You get 5% of your miles back when you redeem them, so they’re actually worth a slightly better 0.525 cents apiece.

It should be noted that travel purchases earn a 1:1 ratio, or double (1.05 cents apiece), so 10,000 miles equals $100 in value plus 5% of those miles back. However, the minimum redemption for a travel purchase is $100.

Bank of America Travel Rewards Can Be Redeemed for Cash

This one is a bit tricky because Bank of America doesn’t post the value of cash back redemptions with regard to the points you earn on their Travel Rewards card. Granted, why would you apply for a travel card if you want cash, but still.

Making it even more difficult to quantify is if there’s a banking relationship bonus on those points. The best we could find was 0.9 cents per point via some comments from cardholders. That may or may not be accurate and/or current. Either way, it’s probably not the best use of these points.

Capital One Venture Miles Cash Value

If you have the Capital One Venture Card and happen to want cash back instead of a travel credit, know that the value of a mile is half a penny (0.5 cents).

But you get 2X on all spending with Venture, so you effectively get a penny per dollar spent when redeeming for cash, which would be 2 cents per mile if used for travel purchases.

In other words, 50,000 Venture Miles are worth $250 cash or $500 in travel statement credits. It is believed that the minimum redemption is 2,500 miles, though Capital One is pretty good at hiding this information from non-cardmembers.

Merrill Points Are Worth a Penny

This one is fairly straightforward, as far as we can tell. If you open a card such as the Merrill+ Visa Signature Card, you’ll earn one penny per Merrill point.

So 50,000 Merrill points will get you $500, though only via statement credit unless you have a BofA/Merrill bank account. Cash rewards start at 3,000 Merrill Points for $30 in value.

Travel redemptions are worth 2 cents because you only need 25,000 Merrill points for a $500 flight.

Nasa Star Trek Points Require a Klingon to Do the Math

Here’s a random one to add to the mix, assuming you’ve applied for a Star Trek credit card from the NASA Federal Credit Union.

Per DoC, Star Trek points are worth 0.704 cents with redemptions starting at 7,100 points. WTF? That’ll get you $50, while 14,200 will land you $100. These are statement credits FYI, and apparently can take 1 or 2 billing cycles. Talk about light speed.

As you can see, in many cases you’re probably better off going for a 2% cash back credit card like Citi Double Cash if it’s simply cash back you’re after.

At the same time, some of these travel-oriented credit cards have massive sign-up bonuses that can score you a ton of cash value upfront, even if you forego the huge travel redemptions in the process.

These cash back redemptions can also be helpful if you have no use for the points and want to cash out, close the card, and move on.

How Much Are Credit Card Points Worth (in Cash)?

Card Issuer Currency Cash Value
American Express Membership Rewards 0.5-0.6 cents
Bank of America Travel Rewards 0.9 cents
Barclaycard Arrival Miles 0.525 cents
Capital One Venture Miles 0.5 cents
Chase Ultimate Rewards 1 cent
Citi ThankYou Points 0.5 cents
Discover Miles 1 cent
Merrill Lynch Merrill Points 1 cent
Nasa FCU Star Trek Points 0.704 cents

(photo: Marcin Wichary)

American Express Membership Rewards Points Are Kind of Weak When Not Used for Travel


If you’re new to the credit card points game, your first stop might be American Express, which has long been known for offering rich rewards to its cardholders.

Many of their cards earn “Membership Rewards” points that can be used for a variety of redemption options, such as travel, merchandise, gift cards, and so on.

But if you actually take a hard look at what you can do with your Amex Membership Rewards, you might be a little disappointed.

Amex Membership Rewards Redemption Values Often Stink

Amex gift card

Let’s assume you apply for the Amex Business Platinum that earns 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $15,000 in the first three months. Yes, that’s a ton of spending to earn what Chase will give you for spending $4,000 over the same period.

Now let’s pretend that you spent the required $15,000 and wound up with ~115,000 MR points. That’s a pretty good haul, despite all the spending that was required to get there.

Of course, you did have to pay a $450 annual fee in the process, some of which could be offset by a qualifying $200 airline purchase credit and perhaps a credit for Global Entry if you don’t already have it.

Anyway, you’ve got all your MR points and you’d like to see what you can do with them.

A new feature to the Amex Biz Platinum is the ability to book flights via the American Express Travel website and get 50% back.

So your 100,000 points would be worth double, or $2,000 worth of flights. That’s a good benefit for someone who travels frequently, though it should be noted it must be with your “selected airline.”

You get to pick one airline for both your annual credit and this new perk. That’s all good and well.

Alternatively, you could transfer your points out of Amex and into a different reward currency, such as into British Airways Avios, or Etihad Guest Miles. These options offer 1:1 transfers, meaning 1,000 points is worth 1,000 miles.

Again, great deal for the person looking to fly somewhere sometime soon.

But what happens if you don’t actually have a trip planned? Or don’t want to use your Membership Rewards for travel?

Well, this is where things get kind of sucky. You see, the value of Membership Rewards points tanks when they aren’t used for travel.

For example, if you want cash, you can’t really get it. Instead, you can redeem your hard-earned points for an Amex gift card at 2:1 value. If you burn through all 100,000, you’ll get the equivalent of $500.

That’s not very awesome, is it?

What Are Amex Points Good For?

Amex merch

Same goes for merchandise purchased with Amex MR points. You’re looking at 2:1 in many cases, valuing the points at just .50 cents each.

If you want to use the points for charges, a la statement credit, the ratio isn’t very good either. You’re looking at $600 for those 100,000 points, or .60 cents value.

There are some third-party gift cards you can redeem for that offer 1:1 value, such as Chili’s, or Home Depot, but come on, you can get those for a discount on sites like GiftCardGranny.

Same goes for Uber, you get 1:1 value. But most folks aren’t looking for 1:1 value…they’re looking for something exceptionally better to make that steep annual fee (and all that spending) worth it.

If you look at alternatives, like Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Chase Ink Preferred, you get way more options, even if you don’t have any plans to fly anywhere.

Most importantly, you’re given the option to redeem your points for cash at a 1:1 ratio, so you could get $1,000 no questions asked and do whatever you’d like with it. Even use it for travel eventually!

The moral of the story here is to look into the redemption options of the awards currency you’re earning to see if it will actually benefit YOU.

Many of the points blogs are travel-oriented, so they assume you’re going somewhere. If you’re not, you might be disappointed with what you wind up with.

That’s why a Chase card that earns Ultimate Rewards might be the better choice for the individual who is unsure if they’ll be traveling anytime soon.

What You Can Do with 100,000 Amex Membership Rewards Points

Amex gift card – $500.00
Donate to charity – $1000.00
New York City Taxis – $1000.00
Reserve flights via Amex Travel – up to $2000.00 (with 50% points refund)
Reserve prepaid hotels via Amex – $700.00
Shop with MR points – $500.00
Shop with Points at Amazon – $700.00
Telecharge – $500.00
Ticketmaster – $500.00
Third-party gift cards – up to $500.00
Transfer to airline/hotel partners – sky is the limit
Transfer to Plenti – $800.00
Uber – $1000.00
Use points at Best Buy – $700.00
Use points for Airbnb – $700.00
Use points for charges – $600.00

(photo: Paul Sableman)

Earn Referrals for Your Friends and Family Members Credit Card Applications


While it’s always vital to seek out the best publicly available offer for the credit card you’re interested in, it’s also important to determine if you can earn a referral bonus for opening up a particular credit card.

Several of the credit card issuers have what’s known as “refer-a-friend programs” that allow you to earn extra cash or bonus points for referring a friend or family member.

Instead of simply going straight to the credit card issuer’s website, or using some blogger’s affiliate link (watch out!), it’s wise to check out referral links too so YOU actually profit from the opening of a new credit card.

This is a particularly useful strategy for couples, who can maximize their sign-up bonuses with these add-on points and perhaps earn enough for a nice round-trip flight somewhere.

Not All Credit Card Issuers Offer Refer-a-Friend Programs

As mentioned, some credit card issuers have a referral program, not all of them. And of those that do, they don’t offer a referral bonus on all of their cards, just on some of them.

For example, Chase has a lot of different credit cards, but only allow you to refer friends and family to certain cards, such as Chase Freedom and Freedom Limited, Chase Sapphire Preferred (not Reserve), and Chase Ink Cash but not Chase Ink Plus, which actually has since been discontinued.

Our Marriott Rewards card wasn’t eligible, but we’ve heard it has been in the past, though the Southwest cards from Chase apparently generate a referral.

You can test any Chase card you have by entering in your last name, zip code, and the last four digits of the card in question. It will either populate the screen below, or it will tell you that the card isn’t eligible for referrals.

Chase Refer-a-Friend

chase refer

If you see this screen, you can send out email invites to up to 25 people per 24-hour period, or blast your social media accounts via Facebook or Twitter. Depends how annoying you want to be here…

With Chase, the max you can earn is 50,000 Ultimate Rewards (or $500) per year via the referral program. So you may not need to annoy a lot of people.

American Express Refer-a-Friend

American Express also allows credit card referrals, though their process is a bit different, and perhaps easier. You simply log-in to the referral page using your normal credentials and it will show you all available cards you can refer friends and family to.

amex refer

As you can see, the Amex EveryDay Credit Card is the only option, and it earns 5,000 Membership Rewards points for each approved referral, with a maximum of 55,000 points per calendar year. That’s 11 approvals per year.

Discover Refer-a-Friend

With Discover, there are refer-a-friend programs for both their Discover it and Discover it Miles cards, though we found out we were only eligible for the standard Discover it card.

discover refer

discover miles refer

You can earn a $50 Cashback Bonus for each friend who applies and gets approved, with a maximum of $500 per calendar year.

Update: We (and maybe you) are now eligible to refer friends to the Discover it Miles card. You get 5,000 miles for each friend who becomes a cardmember and they can earn 5,000 miles after their first purchase within 3 months.

The same maximum of 10 referrals per calendar year applies for Discover it Miles referrals.

In summary, of the four major credit card issuers, Amex, Chase, Citi, and Discover, Citi is the only company to not offer a refer-a-friend program.

Links to each credit card issuer’s refer-a-friend program…


Bank of America – doesn’t have a credit card referral program

Barclaycard – targeted 5,000 bonus mile referral for the Arrival+ MasterCard

Capital One – doesn’t have a referral program


Citi – doesn’t have a referral program for its credit cards in the United States (other countries are a possibility)


US Bank – has a refer-a-friend link for the FlexPerks card (5,000 FlexPoints per approval)

Wells Fargo – no referral program

Pro tip: These referral programs can and will change over time so be sure to always double-check before you apply for a credit card to ensure you don’t miss out on a nice little payday.

Also take the time to compare all available offers so you don’t miss out on something better, even if you lose out on the referral in the process.

We Got Pitched the 50k Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard on Our Flight Home from Hawaii


We were traveling back to Los Angeles from Maui the other day, when toward the end of the flight, the attendant mentioned a credit card deal over the intercom.

At first, we were a bit surprised to hear the pitch, which lasted what seemed like a full five minutes or longer as the pilots were focused on making their final approach to LAX.

The credit card offer was apparently an exclusive one, and they let that be known to all the passengers on the flight.

Is the 50k Hawaiian Airlines Offer Really Only Available In-Flight?

Instead of the publicly available 35,000 bonus miles, you could earn 50,000 Hawaiian Airlines miles when you spent $1,000 in the first 90 days from account opening with the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard from Barclaycard.

Other than that, the offer appeared to be the same. They mentioned the one-time 50% off companion discount for roundtrip travel (in coach) between North America and Hawaii.

Oh, and the complimentary checked bag for the primary cardholder if/when the card is used to book travel directly with Hawaiian Airlines.

There was also the usual $89 annual fee, which was not waived the first year.

In short, the offer from the sky came with an additional 15,000 Hawaiian Miles, which is nothing to sneeze at, assuming you want the card.

We meant to get a paper application, which they were passing out to passengers, but kind of forgot, perhaps because that long and slightly aggressive pitch put us in a bizarre dreamlike state. Not sure, but we forgot. Darn it!

Anyway, we wanted to see how truly exclusive the offer was once we got back home. Was it really only available to passengers on a Hawaiian Airlines flight? Or was that just part of the pitch?

It wasn’t long before we found out that it was indeed a non-public offer, but like most other things in life, there was a way to get the deal without being on a flight or mailing in that paper application.

How to Get the 50k Hawaiian Airlines Credit Card Offer

50k offer

We quickly found out that there was a way to populate the 50k offer by starting the online booking process with Hawaiian Airlines.

In short, you have to go to the Hawaiian Airlines website and select a flight, any flight, and go through the process of pretending to buy a plane ticket.

You don’t have to pretend if you really want to book a flight on Hawaiian.

Anyway, it involves quite a few steps, including selecting the flight, picking a seat, entering in personal information, and so on. Eventually you get to the payment screen, which is the key part of the process.

If, and only if, you select Credit / Debit Card for payment method will the 50k offer show up. If you select Gift Cards / Gift Certificates or masterpass it will not appear.

So, once you click the radio button next to Credit / Debit Card the offer should appear to the bottom right portion of the screen. Then you can click on the offer and snag the extra 15k points, all without actually buying a plane ticket.

Pro tip: Don’t log-in, but do select a one-way flight and skip seat selection (scroll down during that part) to save yourself some time during the quasi-booking process.

As to what those extra 15,000 Hawaiian Miles are worth, you can refer to their award chart. It’s practically enough (you need 20k) to fly one way to/from Hawaii and North America.

It’s also enough for a round-trip flight between different Hawaiian Islands.

Alternatively, the extra 15k miles could be used for a bigger reward, such as a flight to Australia, New Zealand, or Tahiti.

Moral of the story is to always do some digging for the best available offer before you apply. Sometimes it takes a bit of extra legwork, but it can certainly be worth the trouble.

You Can Use a Replacement American Express Card Immediately with Apple Pay


Don’t you hate it when one of your credit cards gets compromised. Aside from having to call up the credit card issuer and explain what happened, you also lose access to the card in question for a week or two while a replacement is processed.

Clearly this isn’t ideal, especially if the card happens to be one that you frequently use. Even more important if you’re still working on minimum spend to hit a bonus.

Sure, there might not be any liability for the unauthorized charges, which is a sigh of relief, but you’re still left out in the cold while the issuer works on sending out a replacement.

Guess you’ll have to use one of your other cards in the meantime…

Expected Arrival: Next Week

Here’s what happened to us recently. We noticed a charge we didn’t make and quickly contacted American Express to point that out.

After a brief explanation regarding the situation, they went ahead the deactivated the card. By the way, we were on vacation at the time, feeling a little powerless.

When the card was canceled, an email was quickly, maybe an hour later (hours = days on the internet) sent over explaining that a replacement card was processed and would be mailed out in a few days.

A few days is certainly better than a few weeks, but it’s still not fast enough in today’s digital age, is it? We need instant gratification NOW.

Just seconds after that email was sent, another arrived in our inbox letting us know that the new Amex replacement card was updated in Apple Pay.

And not only that, it was ready to use immediately. The email also contained the last five digits of the card, so we knew it was a new card and which one it was when using Apple Pay.

The email said the information was updated “so that you can continue to use Apple Pay to make purchases while you wait for your Card.” Sweet!

How About a Card Ready to Use in an Hour?

Apple Pay replace

Despite the card being compromised, a new digital card was issued within an hour or so and ready for use via Apple Pay.

This meant we could continue to use our Amex card despite the security breach. The only caveat here is that the uninterrupted service does rely on the merchant accepting Apple Pay, which we all know isn’t a foregone conclusion.

In fact, many, many merchants do not accept Apple Pay. But for those that do, this is a great way to get back on your feet after losing a card, especially if you find yourself on vacation or far from home.

Additionally, American Express let us know that any Amex Offers tied to the old card would be automatically transferred to the replacement card, another bonus for those who constantly take advantage of those handy statement credits.

This is one of the many reasons why American Express is tops when it comes to customer service. They actually lost their top ranking to Discover recently, but stuff like this might help them retain their crown.

And this might be a good reason to add your credit cards, at least those from Amex, to Apple Pay. Otherwise you might be without your card for a week.

(photo: David Hilowitz)

Is the MasterCard Black Card Super Lame?

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A dude with an executive desk job who also drives a motorcycle? Rocks an Italian suit in the office, then quickly changes into a cool leather outfit (complete with stylish riding boots) while speeding away, only to change into an unbuttoned, crisp white dress shirt as he walks into a very cool dinner party with perfect hair?

Sure, no problem. You are, after all, a Black Card customer. At least, that’s what the new commercial seems to be attempting to convey. Superhero status. Oh, and did we mention the card is made of metal (stainless steel and carbon)? And the song is the coolest you’ve ever heard?

We’ve seen this MasterCard Black Card ad run a lot on TV recently, during major sporting events like the NFL playoffs. Clearly it’s a big push for the revamped credit card, which used to be a Visa product, but is it effective?

What Does the MasterCard Black Card Actually Offer?

In today’s day and age, we wonder if appealing to lifestyle without offering tangible benefits is still effective? After all, we’ve already got luxury credit cards that come with very real benefits, like Amex Platinum, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Citi Prestige.

So does anyone care if there’s another credit card out there that’s black and metallic? Maybe, we’re not sure. What we weren’t sure of, at least from the commercial, was what the card actually offered.

After some digging, we found out that the Black Card, which is part of the Luxury Card family of credit cards from Barclaycard, has a $495 annual fee.

That beats out all three of the aforementioned luxury credit cards, which all happen to charge a $450 annual fee.

What’s more, the Black Card doesn’t come with a sign-up bonus of any kind. Again, those other three do, and big bonuses at that.

The Black Card does offer an annual airline credit, but it’s only $100. Meanwhile, the other three cards offer annual credits ranging from $200 to $300.

The one bright spot is Black Card comes with 1.5% cash back on every purchase, and points are worth double when redeemed for airfare.

But again, there are no annual fee credit cards out there that offer 2% cash back on every purchase. And it would take a lot of spending at a rate of 1.5% to earn that annual fee back.

How the MasterCard Black Card Stacks Up

Benefit Black Card (Barclaycard) Amex Platinum Chase Sapphire Reserve Citi Prestige
Annual fee $495 $450 $450 $450
Sign-up bonus n/a 40k points for $3k spent 100k points for $4k spent 50k points for $5k spent
Airline credit $100 $200 $300 $250
Lounge access Priority Pass Select Centurion Lounges, Delta lounges, Priority Pass Priority Pass Select Priority Pass Select
Bonus category 1.5% cash back on all purchases 5X on flights booked via Amex 3X travel, hotel, dining 3x travel, 2x dining
Forex fee None None None  None
Global entry $100 credit $100 credit $100 credit $100 credit
Transfer points? No Yes Yes Yes

As you can see, the luxury credit cards available from four major issuers offer a lot of the same stuff, with some major differences with regard to sign-up bonuses and point-earning categories.

And the Black Card doesn’t allow point transfers to travel partners, another huge benefit to the other cards listed above.

With the highest annual fee of all the cards, you might expect more, such as a healthy sign-up bonus or a larger annual airline credit. At least you can use the credit for airline purchases and not just incidentals.

But is that enough to justify an industry-leading annual fee?

Not sure. At least the cool guy with the motorcycle can get into the airport lounge, thanks to a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership with Black Card. Oh, and he gets Luxury Gifts, whatever those are, and a quarterly Luxury Magazine to read. Sweet.

By the way, there’s a MasterCard Gold Card that’s even more expensive, at $995 per year, which is plated in 24-karat gold. It earns 2% cash back and comes with a $200 annual airline credit. Hmm.

(photo: Véronique Debord-Lazaro)

Barclaycard Arrival Plus Is a Great Travel Companion


While a lot of people tend to focus on a credit card’s ability to earn free flights and hotel stays, it’s best not to underestimate the costs once you actually arrive at your travel destination.

It’s great that the hotel is paid for in advance with those free night certificates, and it’s even better when you’re traveling in first class to get to your destination.

But what happens when the hotel bill comes? Those piña coladas were pretty good, actually they were really good (with the rum float), but they were also $15 a pop. And you drank 24 of them. Shoot.

Come check-out, the bitter reality sets in. Your supposed free vacation all of a sudden got really expensive, this despite the fact that your hotel and flight were “free!”

Don’t Leave Home without Barclaycard Arrival Plus?

Borrowing a famous line from American Express, it might actually be in your best interest to pack the Barclaycard Arrival in your suitcase before you leave for your trip.

Why? Because you can earn 50,000 points after spending $3,000, which can be redeemed for any travel purchase of $100 or more.

That means any in-hotel purchases, car rentals, trains, taxis, limos, cruises, etc. can be erased after the fact. And let’s face it, any trip is going to have a lot of these incidental costs, which often aren’t so incidental.

So, let’s use a real-world example to see where this card would benefit you. As mentioned, you’ve got your free flight to, let’s say, Hawaii, and your free hotel room at the Marriott Beach Resort in Wailea. That’s all good.

But now you’re drinking at the pool and ordering club sandwiches and having a ball. Again, all good, that is, until the bill comes.

A Card That Fills in the Gaps on Your Free Trip

There’s no miles card out there that will pay for incidentals at the hotel you’re staying at, except for one, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus.

Let’s assume you have a bill of $437 after all is said and done. You tell the hotel to put it on your Barclaycard Arrival+ and head back home.

If you hit your minimum spend of $3,000 in the first 90 days, you’d have at least 56,000 points waiting in your account, thanks to the 50k bonus and the miles earned for spending $3,000+.

You get 2X miles on every purchase, so that’s how you wind up with at least 56k. Did we mention you get 5% of your miles back when you redeem them?

Anyway, you get home and you’ve got that pesky $437 hotel charge. Boo. Your vacation wasn’t free. But wait, you paid for the hotel charges with your Barclaycard Arrival+.

That means you can erase the travel purchase with all those miles you accrued. You take 43,000 of your miles and you’re left with a $7 tab.

Yep, all those mai tais and piña coladas and club sandwiches you scarfed down at the hotel pool set you back just $7 when all was said and done.

Hang on. What about the resort fee and taxes that wound up costing $150? Well, you get 2,150 miles back for that 43k redemption, and you still had 13,000 miles leftover. That means you can redeem another 15,000 miles for those charges.

Sweet. All the hotel charges are GONE. And now your free vacation is starting to look and feel a lot more free. You can finally brag to people about your free trip…

Keep in mind that redemptions for travel statement credits start at a minimum of 10,000 miles ($100 value) toward all or a portion of your travel purchase of $100 or more made within the past 120 days.

That means the charge has to be at least $100 in order to erase it. Make sure you combine charges (like charging to your room) to ensure you don’t have a bunch of sub-$100 charges you can’t redeem. And the charges have to be redeemed within about four months.

Pro tip: If you have a spouse or significant other, they too can apply for the card and get the same bonus. Use the second card for other travel purchases, such as car rental, transportation, and so on.

In summary, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus is the perfect filler card to cover all the stuff in between your big-ticket travel purchases to ensure you don’t wind up spending more than you’d like.

Just be sure to apply for the cards well before you leave for your trip…a month or so in advance is a safe play. It can take time to receive the card, especially as Barclaycard can sometimes make some pretty demanding paperwork requests in order to get approved for their credit cards.

And you’ve got to hit the spending requirement too to unlock those miles within 120 days of your travel purchases!

Read more: How Barclaycard Arrival travel redemptions work.

(photo: iaramburu)

Apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve at a Branch to Get the 100K Bonus


In case you haven’t heard, the 100,000-point opening bonus attached to the wildly popular Chase Sapphire Reserve card was/is apparently a limited-time offer, something we all fretted about since it came out.

Per the Chase website (we like official sources), the 100k online offer requires you to apply by January 11th. It’s January 12th and that language in still on their website.

Perhaps the webmaster forgot to update the site, or a cached copy needs to be flushed. We don’t know. We just know the 100k online offer is supposed to be long gone by now.

It should have been slashed in half, to just 50k points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months. That’s quite a drop, as you know, making the card just so-so now when you factor in the massive $450 annual fee.

In-Branch CSR Offer Still Comes with 100,000 Points Until March

chase sapphire offer end

The good news is that the reduced offer is only applicable to the online application. You can apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve in-branch for another two months or so and get the 100k bonus points. The end date is expected to be a full two months later, on or around March 11th, 2017.

Put simply, you should NOT apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card online anymore. You’ll get 50,000 less bonus points if you do, at least, that’s what Chase would have us led to believe.

It should be noted that Chase is very accommodating when it comes to matching public offers, so even if you did flub up and apply online, they might honor the 100k bonus if you send them a secure message from within the Chase website.

Still, it’s probably not worth taking that chance if there’s a Chase branch nearby. For those nowhere close to a Chase branch, you might just have to take that leap of faith and hope for a match after the fact.

For those lucky enough to be close to one of their physical locations, there’s another plus to applying for the CSR at a Chase branch. The personal bankers there can see what cards you’re pre-approved for beforehand. That way you can save a credit inquiry if they let you know you don’t qualify.

No senses in running your credit when you know you won’t be approved. Just be warned that they can’t see (as far as we know) your 5/24 status, and this can sometimes be an impenetrable roadblock even if you’re supposedly good to go.

Some people also seem to think approval odds are higher when you deal directly with a Chase banker, as opposed to applying on some credit card blog that urges you to apply, despite your approval odds being low to nil.

Your chances of instant approval may also be higher when you’re at the branch in full physical glory, so you can get your new card with little delay.

Pro tip: Chase now has a 5/24 rule in place that bars you from getting approved for certain Chase credit cards if you’ve opened five or more credit cards in the past two years (from any company).

You can check your 5/24 status on a free site such as Credit Karma. Once logged in, simply navigate to the credit report tab and filter by date to check how many credit cards have been opened in the past two years. If there are five or more you might be out of luck.

(photo: zack Mccarthy)