Sunday, August 26, 2012

AMEX BlueCash Everyday

The American Express BlueCash card was the third and final new credit card I got in June. And when I say June, I mean late at night on June 30th.

June was an eventful month for me in the world of credit cards. I upgraded my AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card to the Platinum card. Additionally, I applied for (and got) the Chase Amazon Rewards Visa. I was well into the process of becoming a credit card rewards geek and already planning future applications a few months ahead. Something was missing, though. Something I didn't want to go without: grocery store rewards.

I was thrilled with the Premier Rewards Gold card, and I needed something to replace my extra points on grocery store purchases. Granted, this card is not a Membership Rewards card, but cash back is not a bad deal. With the PRG card, I earned 2X Membership Rewards on grocery and gas purchases. I get gas purchase rewards on a couple of other cards, but nothing else in my wallet gave earnings multiples on grocery stores. Enter the BlueCash card, which gives three points per dollar on grocery purchases. The full multiples listing is below:

-3% cash back on groceries
-2% on gas stations and department stores
-1% everything else
-2.7% foreign transaction fee (clearly not a card to use overseas)
-Redeem for cash back or statement credit any time for $25 or more

I gave careful consideration to the BlueCash Preferred card, which offers a whopping 6% cash back on grocery purchases. It has an annual fee of $75, while the Everyday version I got has no annual fee. I did the math, and it would be worth the annual fee to double grocery rewards from 3% to 6% for me. Nevertheless, I opted for the Everyday version. I'm getting married next year and just could not justify paying an annual fee, even though it would be worth it. However, I am planning to upgrade to the Preferred version of the card next year.

A note about that...I discovered after applying that you CANNOT upgrade this card if you've had it less than a year. It's not AMEX; it's a consumer protection law that has an unexpected side effect. You can read about that here.

The wild card here is department stores. That is not a benefit I've seen offered on other cards, and I'm not sure how much it will benefit me. Nevertheless, it's not a bad thing to have. 1% cash back on everything else is not great, and is really the bare minimum you should be earning. Now that I've met the $1,000 spend requirement for the $100 signup bonus, this card will get only grocery and some gas purchases unless the department store category turns out to be useful.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Activity Can't Save Old SouthWest Credits

This may not be news to anyone, but I have confirmed that there is nothing you can do to keep your old SouthWest credits from expiring short of purchasing a reward ticket with them. I only had four credits, so it didn't make sense for me to purchase the balance needed to get to a new ticket. That new ticket would only have been valid for a year anyway, and SouthWest is not a main airline for me.

As background, SouthWest introduced a new rewards system last year that replaced credits with points.  Under the new system, points don't expire as long as you have activity within 24 months. The old credits expired in two years no matter what you did. I was hoping that after the transition, posting some activity would keep the old credits active, so I used the SouthWest mall shopping portal to buy some new headphones from Apple for in-store pickup.

Alas, no such luck. The points for the purchase had no effect on the expiration date of my old credits. That's okay; I was not upset. The old credits were always supposed to expire. I just figured there would be no harm in trying to keep them active. I pinged SouthWest about it, and they responded in less than a day with a friendly boilerplate explanation. I say friendly because it was worded much better than most of the "copy and paste" replies I've received from companies.

If you need to convert your old credits and buy a ticket, this blog has a great overview of the process.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Chase Amazon Rewards VISA

I just finished my first month with the Amazon Rewards VISA from Chase, and it works as advertised. This card is a perfect fit for me because I am a heavy Amazon user, but I fell into it sideways. Okay, heavy user is probably an understatement. I pay the the $79 per year fee for Amazon Prime, and I get more than my money's worth from that. I placed 60 orders in 2010, 76 orders in 2011, and 38 orders through the first 7 months of 2012. I'm on pace for 65 orders, in line with the last couple of years and averaging 1.25 orders per week. It may even go beyond that due to holiday transactions near the end of the year.

I was in the market for a new card due to my decision to upgrade from the American Express Premium Rewards Gold Card to the Platinum Card, which I will discuss in another post. Suffice it to say that while the Platinum Card is great for the benefits of having the card, the 1X points earnings leave something to be desired. Previously I had just put all my spending on the Gold card; with this change, it became more advantageous to diversify.

I'd been reading up on rewards in terms of frequent flyer points, cash back, and whatever else I could find. I turned up the Amazon card in a google search, which is funny because I must have seen it advertised on Amazon a hundred times. Now that I was in the market, it appealed to me instantly. It's a "cashback" card, so the points translate to cash at $1 per $100 points. It earns points with the following multipliers:

-3 points per dollar at
-2 points per dollar at Gas Stations, Restaurants and Drugstores
-1 point per dollar everywhere else

The signing bonus is not exciting at $30 currently, but it posts instantly and the spending rewards appear as soon as your statement month is over. I was able to get a $50 instant credit (it functions like a gift card) for when I signed up. Right now, the best deal I can see is only $30 though. I am not certain if it was available publicly the day I signed up or if it was a targeted offer because I was signed into my amazon account while viewing the details. If you want this card and already have an Amazon account, then better safe than sorry: make sure you are logged in before you apply!

Neither $30 nor $50 is an especially exciting signup bonus, but this is a card you buy to put spending on rather than for that perk. The only card I have seen with better Amazon rewards is the Citi Forward card which yields 5X points on bookstores, which currently includes Amazon. However, I worry that this classification will change in the future. The Chase Freedom card also gave 5% cash back on Amazon purchases several months ago, but those rewards rotate by quarter and were only good for the first quarter of 2012.

I get gas station rewards from another card, but this card will be my go-to for Amazon and drug store purchases. It will also get most of my restaurant spending for now, although that may change if I apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Speaking of which, I have heard that Chase is rather stingy with credit card applications relative to other issuers. This is my first Chase card, so I can't speak to that, but I did go into this card applications thinking it would be a good move to start a relationship with Chase so I'd have some history to back me up for future applications for more elite cards.

I don't have any affiliation with Amazon or Chase beyond being a customer, so I don't get anything if you sign up for either.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Just Saved a Legacy Card, My Macy's AMEX

I got a Macy's VISA in 2006. As I recall, opening that account took about $100 off my purchase, which is why I did it. I was in law school at the time, and I purchased a couple of suits on sale. This was a huge purchase for me at the time. It would still be a big purchase today, but at that point while I was earning very little, it was as big as things got for me.

Fast forward a few years: I've graduated, moved, and basically forgotten about my Macy's card. It lived in a box with some other old cards and my student ID. I started becoming a credit card / travel rewards geek slowly, but hit critical mass just this year. I applied for my first AMEX in 2010, another in 2011, and then just recently made several moves in terms of applying for new cards and upgrading my old ones.

It was while checking my credit report for this geekery that I noticed the forgotten Macy's card (or at least, what I deduced to be that card). 

This was on my current credit report:

Reported since 2009, but opened in 2006.

A quick google search indicated that DSNB AMEX is related to Macy's accounts. However, I had never had an AMEX before 2010. I looked back to a credit report from 2010 and found this:

closed in 2009

Unbeknownst to me, Macy's (and Bloomingdale's) credit cards shifted from VISA to AMEX while I was busy not using my Macy's card. When I figured out that I still had an open account (at least, as far as I could tell from the credit report), I immediately called in to try to get a card issued so I could keep the account from being closed. I was told that accounts were normally closed after 3 years of inactivity, but that mine was still open even though I hadn't used it in 4 years. I wouldn't have been heartbroken if this had gone the other way, but it was still a much-needed win in a period of some turmoil.

The Macy's agent really went out of her way to help me. It involved a substantial amount of work on her part since the account had been dormant for so long. Beyond that, I had moved out of state since I'd last used the card, and updating all of that was a challenge. However, she was able to get me a card reissued to my current address. I've since used it, and it works!

They had lowered the credit limit automatically due to disuse (ostensibly a protection in case the card had been stolen, and one that did not bother me). What matters is having an account that's been open for 6 years continue to stay open. The card doesn't give much in the way of rewards, so I don't foresee putting a lot of spending on it. Nevertheless, it will be valuable to keep it open so the average account age on my credit report does not fall.

As a native Floridian, I have fond memories of Burdines. I knew that Federated Department Stores had purchased Burdines and Marshall Fields, but it had espaced my attention that the company changed names from Federated to Macy's in 2007. This didn't have any bearing on anything, but I found it to be interesting trivia discovered as I followed the trail of my former Macy's VISA.

I think the take away from this is to take advantage of each and every free credit report to which you are entitled. That means 1 a year from each of the three agencies through the real free (beware of impostors). Some good advice that I've heard (don't remember where) is to pull one from a different agency every 4 months rather than doing them all at once to give you the best picture you can have without paying for a monitoring service.

Speaking of which, I recently signed up for Citi IdentityMonitor; that link will get you the service for $4.95/month (it's normally about 3 times that). Thanks to @MommyPoints for the link. I don't know that I'll keep the service forever, but right now while I've been applying for cards and contemplating refinancing, it's proving its worth with instant notifications.