1. Reader Yun let me know that there’s a neat hack for new Point.app debit card accounts. If you use someone’s referral code at this link, the annual fee drops to $0 for the first year and $49 for the second year. What’s currently unclear is whether you’ll get the $100 sign-up bonus after spending $1,000 when you use the link. My guess is yes, but that’s just a guess.

If you need a referral code, ask a friend and make their day because they’ll likely get a referral bonus. If that’s not a good option for you, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll share Yun’s (he’s given me permission).

2. I got a no lifetime language (NLL) offer via email for the Business Platinum card from American Express, with 150,000 Membership Rewards after $15,000 in spend within the first three months. The link in my inbox seems to skirt the 10 charge card limit — hopefully the link works for you too. To check, login to American Express and then click here.

I’m back up to 11 charge cards with American Express now with 9 of them being Platinums, huzzah I guess?

3. Marriott Bonvoy has enlisted American Express’s help to #bonvoy you. How? I’m glad you asked. They’re sending around targeted offers for card holders that give you a pitiful 1,000 points if you add an authorized user to your Bonvoy Card and spend $1,000 on the authorized user card in six months. You can see if you’re targeted at this link.

This is a terrible offer by the way; 1,000 Bonvoy points are worth at best $5, which is approximately the price of a cookie at a Marriott Courtyard.

The cookies on this plate are literally worth more than 1,000 #bonvoy points. Given the deliberately ominous arrangement, I calculate a 41.4% chance that this #bonvoy elite welcome gift will make you sick.
(Thanks to D C Domer for the picture from his recent trip)

Airlines went nuts in the last day or so, here are a few of most relevant announcements:

1. ANA announced that they no longer have change fees for trips originating in the US. The text in that announcement is a little weird in that it seems to imply that policy doesn’t take effect until October 1, but I believe that what’s actually happening is that on the first of October, countries in the Americas other than the US will no longer have this, but all countries in the Americas including the US have fees waived until then. A few choice ANA sweet-spots:

  • North America to Japan round-trip in business class is 75,000 ANA Mileage Club miles during low season, 85,000 miles during regular season, and 95,000 miles during peak season. All of these are actually a great value.
  • North America to Europe round-trip in business class is 88,000 Mileage Club miles.

2. Southwest is having a fare sale for travel that includes Thanksgiving. Hopefully you’ve locked all that in by now, but in case you haven’t please do it soon. If you haven’t booked by tomorrow, there will be consequences. What consequences? I won’t feel bad for you when you have to book at higher prices. How’s that for consequences?

3. Ok, so technically this is “Thursday Airline Mayhem”, but I want you to be ready if it’s relevant so this item was brought forward a day: Southwest is extending their schedule tomorrow, and this round covers Spring Break 2022. I’d do yourself a favor and look at your plans for next Spring and get some tentative flights booked with Southwest if it overlaps with those plans. They’ll almost certainly change their schedule between now and then which will give you the opportunity to potentially switch to even better flights at no upcharge.

If you book with Rapid Rewards points, you can always cancel and redeposit with no penalty for a nice play on tentative plans.

4. JetBlue is having fare sale for bookings made by tomorrow that covers travel between September 20 and November 18. This is a good speculative travel play because even JetBlue Basic award tickets can be redeposited or changed without fees.

The Southwest 737 Flight Management System (FMS) in mayhem mode.

Target runs a deal like $50 off of $50 when opening a new Target Redcard every few months. The latest of these deals started Saturday and runs through October 1. The promotion applies to opening either a debit Redcard or for a credit card Redcard, both of which have merit (and not just because they’ll both give you 5% off of everything at Target).

Debit

Why sign up for the debit card?

  • There’s no hard pull on your credit
  • You can close it as soon as you get the $50 off coupon
  • After closing the card, wait 48 hours and you can sign up for another one with the same info to get another coupon

Over the period of this promotion, you’ll almost certainly be able to open/close twice, and perhaps three times. So, think of this as $100-$150 in Target stuff every few months with no credit pull.

Credit

What about the credit card? Well, $50 is a really crappy bonus for signing up for a credit card for sure, especially one that only works at Target. But, this card has a great feature: You may be able to pay off your balance in store. (Target is pretty accepting of different payment methods — remember the American Express for Target prepaid card before it was discontinued? I do)

There’s another reason to get the credit version of the Target RedCard: It’s a prerequisite for getting the Target Mastercard which, unlike the RedCard, works at stores other than Target.

Good luck, and a special thanks to Larry for consulting with me on this post.

An image of the old American Express For Target prepaid debit card.
This card still lives today (in spirit).

Reader Gene was the first to let me know that Simon cards stopped working for purchasing money orders at Safeway late last week. It’s the next major in-person liquidation method to fall for Metabank / BHN gift cards, which obviously (as the kids say) sucks.

Background

Metabank/BHN Visa and Mastercard gift cards are some of the easiest cards out there to get at a discount or to buy in bulk, either through Office Depot/Office Max sales, Staples sales, or Simon volume plays. It used to be really simple to liquidate them in person by loading to a prepaid card like BlueBird or converting them to a money order. Unfortunately, that’s been changing over the last year or so:

  • Most Wal-Mart registers stopped accepting Metabank debit swipes over $99 in November of last year. (hint: most)
  • Many Kroger registers stopped accepting Metabank debit swipes over $99 at the same time. (hint: many)
  • As of late last week, Safeway stopped accepting Metabank debit swipes, probably also with a $99 cap. (see above)

Why Now?

Why are major grocery stores clamping down on this? I can think of two reasons, one for each side of the transaction, but in the end both are really just about controlling profit.

First let’s tackle the grocery side with some background information: Prepaid debit card transaction fees are split into two tiers, covered and exempt, each with its own rate. As with most regulation there is nuance to that definition and the fee structure, but it’s not particularly relevant here. What you should know is banks with less than $10 Billion in assets (like MetaBank at approximately $7 Billion) have a higher interchange fee than larger banks. That smaller bank fee is published at somewhere around 1.15% + $0.15. Yes, there is a cap for supermarket transactions, but usually money centers at supermarkets don’t code as a supermarket transaction because they’re, well, money centers.

So when you swipe a $500 prepaid MetaBank gift card to buy a money order for $499.02 the store may be paying somewhere around $5.90 in fees, but charging you less than $1 for the transaction. Ouch. That’s plenty of reason for major retailers to want to shut down prepaid cards from MetaBank when they happening at volume.

Ok, so what about the other side? Why would MetaBank want to shut this down? That’s an easy one. They’re collecting somewhere between $0 and $5 in purchase fees from you, and that number is probably closer to the $0 end after sales commissions, shipping, and other ancillaries are accounted for — so those don’t have a big impact on revenue. They make their money from collecting their portion of interchange fees when you spend on the card. Those fees for a credit swipe are going to be around 2% of the total purchase price or better, vs at best 1% when all is said and done on a debit transaction. By blocking debit transactions they’d approximately double their net revenue.

Where Do we Go From Here?

All isn’t lost with these cards, but the game is a little harder. Here’s how to pivot:

  • There are Visa and Mastercard prepaid issued by bigger banks (like say US Bank) that have more assets and thus are on the lower fee tier for interchange rates. As a result, I think supermarkets and Wal-Mart have a much smaller incentive to care about money order purchases with those cards and thus they’re a safer bet for MS.
  • Plenty of mid-tier grocery stores still work just fine. We’ve talked about several of them on this site before, but certainly look around your area and you’ll probably find others. Don’t let the lack of a name printed on a debit card stop you either.
  • Certain prepaid products (not unlike GoBank) will still accept Metabank cards even though they won’t work to buy a money order.
  • Look for at home liquidation techniques; try payment processors, bill pay platforms, p2p platforms, etc.
  • Explore other techniques that don’t rely on Visa and Mastercard gift cards: buyer’s clubs, gift card reselling, review clubs, bill pay platforms, p2p platforms, social lending, coins, etc.

There are a ton of plays out there friends, keep looking!

There’s more to Wal-Mart than the Money Center. The bad news? To find it, you still have to go to Wal-Mart.

We’ve talked about Point.app on this blog more times than I’m comfortable with (I don’t think a single topic should get too much coverage), but given their propensity to transfer money from Venture Capitalists’ funds to your wallet via their app, it’s been a regular topic despite that discomfort.

What never made it onto this site, or any other public site that I know of, is that for a brief, amazing, short window, Point let you fund your account with any credit card with no fees, and you could then withdraw your cash via ACH or through other easy manufactured spend right away, given that it’s a debit card. The limits were high too at $10,000 per month, all fee free from Point. There was a rub though: while American Express cards didn’t cash advance, some Mastercards and Visas did.

How did it work? In April, they added an option to fund your account with Apple Pay, an option which still exists today with new restrictions. When that feature showed up in the app, they had language to the effect of “Instantly transfer up to $2,500 per day using a debit or credit card from an existing bank — for no fee.” They weren’t even trying to hide it!

With the help of a fellow hooligan, we tested several small loads with different credit cards and found which ones charged a cash advance for loading. Looking at the charge on American Express’s activity view showed that they were using Stripe to process payments, which is an interesting datapoint to keep in your pocket for looking at similar deals. After that, I maxed out the monthly limit and waited for the month roll-over for even more spend. Then sometime in June, credit card charges stopped working and eventually the language in the app was updated to remove “credit card” from the Apple Pay description.

Lessons to learn from this:

  • New financial technology companies and their cards often allow shenanigans because they haven’t thought about blocking them
  • Shenanigans don’t always work right away, sometimes a new feature enables them
  • Explore each funding opportunity available in a FinTech platform
  • Make a small test payment to see if something causes a cash advance when you find something that works
  • Use the information on your credit card’s activity view for your test payment to discern the likelihood of charges working on other cards, and cash advances aren’t always the cards that you expect
  • Go big before it dies, provided you don’t care if you’re eventually shutdown (I didn’t care with Point, though I wasn’t ever shut down)
  • Keep track of which payment processors are used to discern patterns for future plays

I can definitively say that there are other FinTech companies out there right now that let you fund with a credit card. Get out there and explore, and when you see a new product consider getting it to see what it can do.

Be like Dora, go explore!

1. Do this now: Register for Radisson Americas’ current promotion, which is a free night certificate for each two nights you stay on points between now and December 31. The free night certificate is valid between January 17 and May 23 of next year and you can earn up to 5 free certificates. The certificate you earn is based on the award category:

  • Stay in a category 1, 2, or 3 hotel and receive a category free night 1-3 certificate
  • Stay in a category 4 or 5 hotel and receive a free night certificate for any hotel

2. Simon has another promotion for 40% off of fees with code SEP21FS40, and this applies to their $1,000 Visa Gift Cards. These are great for ginning up spend on your Citi cards for other shenanigans, just make sure you have a liquidation path fleshed out before you spend a bunch, and don’t use an AmEx because you won’t earn points.

3. Capital One has a new travel portal. Normally, I’d say something like: “Who cares? Booking through a third party travel portal is almost always a terrible idea. With hotels, you won’t get benefits from the rewards program and you’re likely to get one of the crappiest rooms at the property, and with flights when something changes you’re going to have to deal with the portal’s terrible customer service to make something happen.”

My response? “That’s all true, self, and great points too I might add.” However there’s a minor reason to book a flight with this portal: they say that they’ll automatically refund the fare difference if the price of the flight drops. If true, that’s pretty cool. They do use weird language “Did you book a flight to visit loved ones based on Capital One Travel recommendations? If the flight price drops, no problem.” I have no idea if that means there are only certain “recommended” flights to which this applies. If so, they’re a bunch of louses and they should feel bad about themselves. If not, this could be a nice feature. (Thanks to DDG via reddit)

A grey squirrel.
I was talking to myself about third party travel booking and then… squirrel.

1. Southwest has a new Companion Pass promotion(*) that’s very easy to attain: You have to purchase a paid round-trip or two one-way flights by tomorrow and travel by November 18. Register just in case you book something and qualify (yes, you have to book by tomorrow so I admit the likelihood of a booking you don’t know about coming up in the next day is small).

The companion pass will be valid from January 6, 2022 through February 28, 2022. And, you can change the companion three times over that period, which is a great way to scale this to multiple free tickets for multiple companions if it suits your travel style.

2. My Xfinity rewards program $100 Visa Gift Card showed up in the mail today. It’s issued by Metabank and has a 424030 BIN. Unfortunately that BIN is one of the harder to work with, but liquidation is still easily possible. Now, let me say something I think I’ve never said before and I’ll never say again: Thanks Xfinity!

3. There’s a widely targeted offer for 3x spend at grocery, drug stores, and restaurants for Barclay’s JetBlue cards for up to $1,000 spend. Look for an email with the subject “Fly off with 3X additional points on everyday purchases this fall.” Combine with two $500 BestBuy gift cards at Kroger for a nice win.

The top-tier elite Southwest experience summed up in a single picture.

* Unfortunately, you do have to fly on Southwest. However as I always say, they do get you where you’re going.

Today is your day-off between Kroger’s promotions for 4x fuel points on gift cards. I hope you’re taking advantage of it, I know I’m excited to not step foot in a Kroger for the next 24 hours. In case that’s not exciting enough, here are a couple of items that will hopefully make up for it:

1. American Express has a 15% transfer bonus to LifeMiles, as I’m sure you already knew. Well, LifeMiles also as its own 15% incoming transfer bonus for Membership Rewards transfers until September 30, which gives you a total bonus of 32% (EDIT: Thanks to Vince for pointing out that a 15% bonus on a 15% bonus is effectively a 32% bonus, not a 30% bonus as previously written) . This is huge, it means:

  • First Class (Lufthansa) US-Europe or vice-versa for 66,000 Membership Rewards, no fuel surcharges
  • Economy US-Africa or vice-versa for 31,000 Membership Rewards, no fuel surcharges
  • Business Class US-Europe or vice-versa for 49,000 Membership Rewards, no fuel surcharges
  • Economy continental US-Caribbean for 10,000 Membership Rewards, no fuel surcharges

There are other great redemptions too. You’ve probably read on this site multiple times that one of Avianca LifeMiles’ sweet-spots is its loose definition of a region. That US-Caribbean deal is a prime example. (Thanks to TheSultan1 for digging up the LifeMiles bonus link)

2. American Express Platinum card retention offers in September have finally caught up with the new, increased annual fee. There are reports of 60,000 Membership Rewards or $650 statement credits being offered. Whenever I call for a retention offer, I say something like: “I’m thinking of closing this card because its annual fee is huge. Before I make a decision though, I was wondering if there are any spend bonuses or retention offers available?” It’s worth a shot with all of your AmEx cards at these offer levels, so don’t put this one off.

Taking a break between Kroger 4x fuel points promotions.