It bonuses at 2x on department stores, restaurants, car rentals, and airfare
It has no annual fee
You can transfer to airline partners
You can cash out Membership Rewards to your Morgan Stanley account at one cent per point
The last bullet is the kicker, though the others are noteworthy too. This card may now be the best option for converting Membership Rewards to cash in an above-the-board sort of way. Yes, the Schwab Platinum gives you an extra 10% uplift on cash-out, but you also have to have a Schwab Platinum card and pay its $695 annual fee, which I guess you can offset slightly with Clear and a stupid gym membership.
Running the numbers quickly by moving the decimal, you’d have to cash-out more than 695,000 points with the Schwab Platinum at 1.1 cents per point to offset the annual fee of the Platinum card versus just cashing out at 1.0 cents per per point with the no fee Morgan Stanley Card; if you’re cashing out any number less than that over the period of a year, you should really be using the Morgan Stanley card and not the Schwab Platinum. As a really, really small incentive for getting the card, you’ll get 10,000 Membership Rewards as a sign up bonus after spending $1,000 within three months, and I’m guessing you’ve never gotten that signup bonus before. Right? It’s not exactly been high on my list.
There’s a lot of opportunity kicking off the week, let’s hope it continues through Labor Day weekend (which, by the way, will likely be a great weekend for gift card reselling). Let’s dive in:
1. Office Depot/OfficeMax is back with my favorite promo: $15 off of $300 or more in Visa Gift Cards, now through Saturday. This is a $1.10 money maker when buying two regular $200 Visa Gift Cards. If you try slightly harder, say with the Everywhere variety of Visa Gift Cards and by linking your card to Dosh it becomes a $15.10 money maker without considering credit card rewards. If you go for the Everywhere cards note that they’re locked to specific merchants, but some of them are broad enough to make liquidation a breeze.
Do you have any burner cell phone numbers? Perhaps at least one for each credit card you have that bonuses at Office Supply stores? Create a Dosh account for each of them so you can scale the daily Dosh $10 max.
I signed up for Brex when it was first available and my biggest surprise with it is that the account is actually useful on an ongoing basis, not just for the sign up bonus. I’ve been happy with it for payroll hacking and for MS in certain categories.
Reportedly Brex will also let you sign up with Sole Proprietorship businesses now, but they may ask to see a tax return with a Schedule C.
One of the tropes you’ll find brandished in the mainstream media is that dressing nice, letting the gate agent know that you’re on a honeymoon, or uttering the words “revenue management” will score you a free upgrade. Of course you probably know that’s all a bunch of crap. Airline upgrades don’t work that way and gate agents who play those kinds of shenanigans are disciplined and may end up losing their job.
At a hotel you can usually use the $20 trick for a an upgrade, but trying that at the gate just won’t work. Trust me. So how do you get an edge? Spoiler alert, there is an airline equivalent to the $20 trick that doesn’t involve a crooked gate agent. Let’s call it the “jump-the-bucket” trick. Catchy right? Right? Ok, I know it’s not.
Elite Upgrades in the US
All major US airlines with a first class cabin onboard have some sort of upgrade program for their elite flyers, and there’s a well defined order to which elites are upgraded to the big seat upfront and with what priority. Just because it’s well defined doesn’t mean that airlines publish specific terms and conditions though. Rather, airlines speak about priorities in generalities and as a result it can be a trick to suss out how it really works. To compound the complexity, each airline has slightly different policies and sometimes upgrade instruments get into the mix too.
The major US carriers do share one thing in common for elite upgrades: different ticket fare buckets have different upgrade priorities, and you can hack your way into a higher upgrade priority with the “jump-the-bucket” trick.
Ok, so fare buckets matter for upgrades, but WTF is a fare bucket? The boring definition is that each bucket is a letter (like S, or J) or pair of letters (like OW) that corresponds with a given fare on file in their systems. There isn’t a standard for buckets on all airlines, but they do share a lot in common. First class fare buckets are often Z or F, and economy buckets are often S, L,Y, and B for example. Typically there are around 20 fare buckets per airline.
Fare buckets also have a hierarchy. F > Z, and Y > B > M. See the pattern? Nah, me neither. That’s ok though. You don’t need to memorize the hierarchy, just know that it exists and how to find it.
And now my friends, you’ve got enough background to understand how to game the upgrade lottery. When airlines process upgrades, one of the universal tie breakers is your segment’s fare bucket. To win that battle you just have to make sure you’re in a higher bucket than the other guy. Unfortunately that’s not free, but it’s usually less than $20 or so to jump to the next bucket when you book a ticket. Even better, it’s almost a certainty that no elites on your plane have booked into anything other than the cheapest bucket that was available when they bought their ticket. (There’s a small wrench here, sometimes government contracts and big business contracts will book into high buckets per the specific terms of their agreement with the airline. That usually doesn’t matter if you’re not going to or from DC though, especially during peak leisure travel.)
Now, let’s talk about how to jump-the-bucket with ITA Matrix:
1. Search ITA Matrix for your desired flight 2. Pick your desired itinerary 3. Look at which fare buckets the itinerary has
Example: I searched for a Delta direct flight between Los Angeles (LAX) and Chicago O’Hare (ORD) on Sept 10, and picked the cheapest flight that wasn’t basic economy since those fares aren’t upgrade eligible. In this case, it was an economy flight in fare bucket V, which you can see in my example ITA Matrix search at the end of the line in parentheses after the word “Economy”:
Now I need to find which bucket has a higher priority than V. On Delta, that would be X. (See the next section for priorities. I don’t memorize this and I bet you don’t want to either.) So, to continue with the prior steps:
4. Determine the next higher fare bucket (see next section) — in my case X 5. Return to the main ITA Matrix booking page 6. Enter your desired cities and dates again 7. Click “Advanced controls” to turn them on if they’re not already on 8. Tell ITA Matrix that you want a specific fare bucket (booking code) by entering “f bc=X” in the “Outbound extension codes” and “Return extension codes”. Replace X with the appropriate fare bucket as needed. 9. Click through to find your itinerary 10. Cut and paste your itinerary into bookwithmatrix.com to book
Side tip: Remember how I glossed over searching for a flight that wasn’t basic economy in my example? Well, basic economy on Delta is fare bucket E, and you can enter “f ~bc=E” to tell ITA matrix to ignore any fares in the E bucket. The tilde means “not”.
In this particular example, an X bucket fare was $145.20 which is exactly $13 more than the V bucket. If I book this itinerary, I’ll be ahead of similar leveled elites that booked the cheapest fare they could, which is probably all of them provided the bucket was available when they booked.
Cool eh? Cheaper than the $20 trick, and personally I’ve had great success with this technique in the past.
One last gotcha: Sometimes different segments each have their own fare bucket. That’s ok too, just use the Multi-city tab on ITA Matrix and enter fare codes segment-by-segment and you’ll get what you’re after.
Airline Fare Bucket Priorities
How do you know the order of fare buckets for a given airline? First answer: Ugh. Second answer, visit cwsi.net. To save myself the hassle I’ve written them out and I guess I’ll share them with you too (ordered highest to lowest):
Delta: W, Y, B, M, S, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X, V, E (highest first, lowest last, E is basic economy)
United: O, A, R, Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, W, S, T, L, K, G, N (highest first, lowest last, N is basic economy)
American: Y, H, K, M, V, Q, S, N, L, O, B (highest first, lowest last, B is basic economy)
Alaska: Y, B, H, K, M, L, V, S, N, Q, O, G, X (highest first, lowest last, X is basic economy)
A few things to watch out for:
As flights get closer, lower fare buckets may sell out or get zeroed out by the airline, pushing close-in bookings into a higher fare bucket. So if you book 5 months in advance and jump-the-bucket at the time, you may not be ahead of everyone by the time you fly
There are other criteria for upgrades too, and they vary by airline. Your status level for example is almost always a higher priority than your fare bucket. (Unless it’s a special Y-up bucket, but that’s beyond today’s post)
Using certain upgrade instruments trumps all fare classes. (SWUs on AA, RUCs on DL, GPUs on UA)
There’s an airline cousin to the hotel $20 trick, and it’s called the jump-the-bucket trick. For a few extra bucks you can often up your chances for an elite upgrade. #winning #twirlingtowardfreedom
PayPal has a targeted deal running for 10% back from Target. As you saw yesterday, the Point rewards debit card has a 10x offer running at Target now too. An obvious question: Can these deals combine for 20% off? The answer is probably, though nothing is guaranteed until the data-points start rolling in. So, here’s how I’d play this:
Verify that you’ve got the PayPal Target deal (search for “Target” at this link)
Use cashbackmonitor.com to find a smaller, unknown portal (unfortunately it’s slim pickings right now)
Add one of the following to your cart:
A $500 gift card (Disney, Home Depot, and Apple gift cards are your best bet for resale)
Groceries and home goods that you’d buy anyway
Game consoles for resale if you can find them
Checkout with PayPal, using your Point debit card as payment
Ok, easy enough. We likely just got 20-21% off based on whether or not the portal tracks. (Hint: smaller portals still occasionally track on things like gift cards at many stores even when the big ones don’t).
I’ve kinda buried the lead here though: with these two deals stacking, you can get 20-21% off of Disney park tickets (via a Disney gift card). That’s honestly almost unheard of and if Disney is in your future in the next couple of years, I’d hit this one. If you open multiple PayPal accounts, a personal plus one for each of your “multiple businesses”, you can scale this deal even more; but after the first $500 it’ll turn into a 10-11% back offer because you’ll use up your Point spend capacity. Of course you will be able to get some credit card rewards in place of Point.
As always, if you don’t have the Point debit card and want to get it, make sure you use a referral link for a higher sign-up bonus. (The best that I know of is currently $100 after spending $1,000.) I’d rather you use a friend’s referral link, but if you don’t know anyone who has one feel free to reach out to me and I’ll share mine.
Apparently a bunch of marketing teams got together and colluded to make Wednesday, August 25 the official promotion day for travel hacking. Here are the results:
1.Simon has a promotion running for 40% off of gift cards with code FS40AUG21. Don’t buy with an American Express, but other cards are fair game. For the best bang for your buck, go with $1,000 Visa gift cards.
Tip: If you haven’t yet been approved for a volume account with Simon and you want to unlock the $1,000 Visa gift cards, I’d recommend putting “Manufactured Spend” on the application as the reason for applying. Yes, I’m serious, and yes, it works.
2.Register here for Hilton HHonors double points for non-AmEx Hilton credit card holders, or triple points if you do hold a HHonors credit card. The promotion runs through September 7 and December 31.
3.Alaska Airlines has a flash sale running today for travel between September 7 and December 15. Because the dates cover some holiday travel, I’d suggest taking a peek if you’re still waiting to book travel for the holiday season.
4.Register here for 1,000 bonus AA miles for every “qualifying” stay between September 3 and December 21, which as far as I can tell means every points earning eligible stay in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia (cash, or cash+points).
5. The Point debit card has a 10x boost for Target, up to $500 in spend. This amounts to $50 cash back. Can you guess my play? If you said buy a gift card for resale, you’ve won our grand prize!
If you want the Point card, use a referral because the sign up bonus is bigger that way.
1.Register here for a $50 promo code off of any AA flight booking when booking with a Mastercard for travel before March 15, 2022. There’s a catch though, the code comes six to eight weeks after your first booking for a second booking. So, it’s really a buy-one, get-one for $50 off offer. I bet you can game it with a refundable fare, but at this point no one has been able to try.
3.An interesting promotion has come from Avis, which has happened in the past (checks notes) approximately zero times. Register at that link, then rent an intermediate car from Avis twice for at least two days and you’ll earn a free rental day. Also, don’t forget to register for Avis Preferred status if you have an American Express Platinum card. It’s an even stronger flex if your Platinum card was from item 2.
1. The Citi ThankYou Points (TYP) 25% transfer bonus to Avianca LifeMiles has been extended through August 27. LifeMiles have a few sweetspots that involve strange definitions of regions, and other good deals like Central or Eastern US to Europe in economy. If I’m headed to Europe or Asia I’m going to do it in a lie flat bed like a diva though. So allow me to illustrate how I think about this bonus:
60,000 TYP = 75,000 LifeMiles = One way business class between Europe and North America
64,800 TYP = 81,000 LifeMiles = One way business class between Asia and North America
Those rates aren’t bad, especially given Avianca’s Star Alliance partner availability. Just avoid those old United Business class 2-2-2 configs.
2. Clip this coupon in all of your Meijer MPerks accounts for a $10 Meijer GiftCard with $50 in Happy Gift Cards. I’d buy a Happy Treats card and use it online or in-store at GameStop to buy a Steam gift card for resale. I wrote a quick Happy gift card guide a few weeks ago that may be helpful if they’re new to you. (Thanks to GC Galore)
3. Check your Kroger digital coupons for 300 fuel points when buying a Visa or Mastercard gift card. These coupons often work multiple times, just make sure you clip it before buying the first one. (Thanks to co_trout_slayer)
1. Ready for another week of treadmill running with $200 Mastercard Gift Cards? Staples has your back with another fee free offer, limit five per transaction. I like it, but I don’t like it as much as the Office Depot/OfficeMax version which ends tomorrow because that one starts out as negative cost and gets even better with Dosh. The Staples one is “just” at-cost spend.
Related side note: Another card linked program, Ibotta, has worked with Staples online purchases in the past but seems to have died for anything useful (thanks to SideshowBob233).
2. The Citi Shop Your Way Mastercard has sent new targeted offers for the second half of August. I got one for $50 off of $750 in spend with the subject “Matthew, open now to unlock your special limited time offer! 🌟“, and there are reports of other offers for 15x on utility payments, which are honestly among the easiest categories of payments for manufacturing spend. Never heard of this card? That’s probably because as far as I know it doesn’t pay anyone a commission so you won’t find much written in the usual places.
Incidentally, the Citi Shop Your Way Mastercard is one of the next Miles Earn and Burn Unsung Hero cards thanks to its gameablity, monthly spending bonus offers that stack, and no-annual fee. This card is smoking hot.
Sam from Milenomics reminded me that the best sign-up bonus for this card is in-store at Sears and includes a free two-liter bottle of soda 🤣 in addition to the regular $40 bonus.