It was a strange Black Friday weekend in 2021– we saw shakeups in the BestBuy resale market, Kroger shopping rewards market, and a lack of major deals from big-box retailers; hopefully everything clears up for Cyber Monday, but I’m not holding my breath. I’ll recap everything in a day or two after all the dust settles, but in the mean time here are a few things to look at:

1. If you have an American Express Hilton card, check here for a targeted free night certificate after $8,000 in spend by February 28, 2022. I even got this offer on my fee-free Hilton card.

2. There’s a new no-lifetime language (NLL) offer for the American Business Express Gold card. The sign-up bonus is 90,000 points after spending $10,000 in three months. Unfortunately the offer isn’t available for me, but that’s unsurprising since I currently have eleven American Express charge cards and the limit is typically ten. I also have five American Express credit cards and haven’t been able to bust through that limit. (Thanks to tehflip449, and thanks to BlueCat for pointing out that this one is a Business Gold card)

Side note: I’ve been debating internally about whether the Personal Gold is another candidate for an Unsung Hero card. It’s certainly my favorite American Express charge card and I’d keep 15 of them if I could, but isn’t exactly unsung. Story developing

3.The Point debit card has a new variation on its Streak offers, and it’s even more annoying than it’s been in the past. This one requires $200 in total spend and that you use the card at least once a day for seven days before December 24, after which you’ll get $30 back. Still worth it? Yes, provided that you’ve got automation. I bought a $200 gift card for resale at Whole Foods to take advantage of the 10x bonus and then I set up debbit to make a $1.xx charge at Amazon for the next six days. There’s a debbit sample configuration for another Point Streak deal here.

As usual, make sure you use a referral if you sign up for Point because the referral bonus of $100 is better than the publicly available offer. Reader Mark was the first to let me know that the referrer’s bonus is now also $100 and no longer one fifth of a crappy suitcase.

4. Check this link for 30% back on up to $50 at Amazon for using at least one Membership Rewards point during checkout. Thanks to reader Dean for the link.

5. Meijer has $10 off in $150 or more of Mastercard gift cards with a limit of one per MPerks account. This is a decent deal if you’re already near a Meijer, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for this (unlike their Homerun deal).

6. You can cash out your Citi ThankYou Points at 1.125 cents per point today only by buying Apple gift cards at a 20% discount with ThankYou points and selling at 90% (or more) of face value. (Thanks to nutella)

Happy Monday!

Everything on sale for Black Friday at BestBuy.

1. Apparently several Chase credit cards are being approved regardless of 5/24 status (all links are affiliate-free). Reported cards that are currently ignoring 5/24:

I’m currently on a half-hearted mission to drop below 5/24 (which is a year away best case), but man I’m tempted to make that drop below 5/24 even longer with a Southwest Premier card and its 100,000 Rapid Rewards points bonus. Story developing. (DPs: 1, 2, 3, DoC)

2. The Point debit card is giving 10x at Whole Foods and 10x at Costco through Sunday, up to $500 spend each. Obviously both stores sell gift cards, so there’s that. As usual with this super-weird debit card, use a referral if you sign-up because the referral bonus of $100 is bigger than the regular, publicly available bonus.

3. United has targeted more people with this round of MilePlay, and this time I actually got an offer. Check yours at this link. Mine was “book two trips of at least $300 each and get a bonus 2,700 miles” — strong pass, I like flying on CRJ-200s a whole lot less than I like 2,700 miles, and I’d honestly pay $300 to not fly on a United CRJ-200. Hopefully your offer is quite a bit better.

4. There’s a great $500 bonus offer at the Tastyworks online brokerage after transferring $10,000 in and ostensibly waiting 90 days. Early reports suggested that the bonus posts in one to three days, and I can confirm the same for me (two business days, surprise!) If ten minutes of time is worth $500 for you, I’d suggest you jump on it while it’s still around.

5. Stockpile’s Thanksgiving surprise is that they’re allowing gift card purchases with a credit card, fee-free. If you run into limits, I bet you can find more email addresses and/or IP addresses, right? I knew you could.

It’s too bad this isn’t like black Friday from two years ago, when you could buy $10,000 per day in gift cards fee free, and the maximum value was $5,000 and not $500.

Thanksgiving Surprise from Nana. Yummy, I guess?

American Express launches us into the weekend with some great Friday news:

1. If you were shutdown by American Express for the Adam debacle, you’ve got a good shot at getting your cards reinstated by calling the number on the back of your card and asking for reinstatement. A few details:

  • Accounts reinstated on or after November 1st have all remained open as far as I can tell (versus those reinstated before that date which were quickly closed)
  • American Express will charge you $25 per card reinstated
  • Offers remain attached to your reinstated accounts
  • YMMV on whether your points and cash-back are auto-reinstated
  • Not everyone is eligible for reinstatement

If I were shutdown and wanted to reopen cards with American Express, I’d be very selective about which cards to reopen. I may not want to reopen a card that was sitting in a sock-drawer and only open because of a sign-up bonus or retention offer, for example.

2. There are a few links for adding employee cards to your small business Green, Gold, or Platinum card, and while the offers vary, generally it looks something like 20,000 Membership Rewards for adding a new employee card and spending $4,000 in six months. You can do this with up to five employees for a total of 100,000 Membership Rewards points. You can check your offer here:

A few notes:

  • You may be able to earn 100,000 points for each business card in your portfolio, just split them off into their own login
  • Sometimes it’s helpful to have employees with names like yours, right junior?
  • You don’t actually have to provide a SSN or date of birth for an employee card, and they arrive in the mail pre-activated, in the same way that Spirit’s seats are pre-reclined
  • Always choose the no-annual fee green employee card, the offer will still work
Watch for Spirit’s newest two innovations in a post-“pre-reclined” world. First: punishment class (the middle rows), and second: lie-flatish small-business class.

Introduction

I finally got a kick in the pants to write this post after Rocky emailed and asked why I keep talking about the Citi Shop Your Way Rewards card but haven’t ever posted any real information about it. Why haven’t I posted anything when I clearly love the card? Well, I guarantee you don’t want to know what’s going on inside my head at any given moment, so let’s skip the why and jump into the what. The what:

This no-annual fee card will pay you $700 or more a year, seemingly in perpetuity.

Vitals

This card is issued by Citi and is part of a cobranded relationship with Sears. Yes, Sears, the store that as of two days ago officially has no physical locations and was ransacked for billions of dollars in real estate by Eddie Lampert over the last decade.

  • Issuer: Citi
  • Type: Mastercard (512106 BIN)
  • Rewards: SYWR Points or ThankYou Points
  • Earn rate: 10 SYWR Points per dollar or 1 ThankYou Point per dollar
  • Bonus categories:
    • Up to $10,000 spend per year combined:
      • 5x at gas
      • 3x at grocery stores and restaurants
    • 2x at Sears/Kmart/Hometown Stores
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Sign-up bonus: $40 after spending $50 (but YMMV on whether that auto-posts)
  • Affiliate-free application link

I think it’s obvious to about everyone in the known universe that if you could choose to earn ThankYou Points or Shop Your Way Rewards, you’d choose ThankYou Points. Unfortunately, the only way to get the ThankYou Point version of the card is to call in and ask to convert your Shop Your Way Rewards earning to a ThankYou Point earning version, but I haven’t heard of anyone having any success doing that since 2020. So, if you’re like me, you’re probably going to be stuck with the Shop Your Way Rewards version.

What do you do with Shop Your Way Rewards? You can redeem ten of them for a penny toward merchandise like toilet paper, iPads, or neoprene dumbbells at shopyourway.com, or you can cash them out for a gift card to resell. I definitely do the latter.

Value

Here’s why this card is really valuable: After you’ve had the card for two to three months and it’s been sock-drawered, you’ll start getting spending offers in your email inbox and those offers stack. And unlike everything else about Citi and Sears IT, they post automatically every-time. For example, I have the following spend offers all running concurrently and all from within the last 30 days:

  • $70 statement credit after spending $2,000 anywhere
  • 10x points at Best Buy (lol) and home improvement stores up to $1,250 in spend
  • 10% back in statement credits on utilities every month through January 2022 (min spend $400, max earn $50 per month)

All of these offers obviously pair really well together. For simplicity, I’ll buy 3x$500 BestBuy gift cards at BestBuy for resale and send a $500 “utility payment”. After those two transactions I’ll earn $120 in statement credits plus another $125 worth of Shop Your Way Rewards points, all from a no-annual fee card.

And while not all months have offers stack as nicely as this month, it happens a lot. A lot.

MS Hint: This card is like other Citi Mastercards in many ways, but it does a few things better than other Citi cards too so don’t forget to probe.

ZOMG Wha??

Circling back to the introduction: this no-annual fee card will pay you $700 or more a year through targeted spend offers. Why? The rumor I’ve heard is that the Sears Shop Your Way Rewards card is one of the most valuable cards in Citi’s portfolio because it’s typically held by older generations that grew up with Sears, and those cardholders typically carry a monthly balance which earns Citi plenty in interest and fees so they want to encourage more spending and bigger balances. The story sounds truthy, but I have no independent confirmation so let’s just call it a likely possibility.

How come you haven’t heard of this card before? Well I’m sure the main reason is Sears, though I don’t think it pays a commission to affiliates so there’s not a financial incentive to write about it. Finally, the Shop Your Way Rewards program isn’t exactly on-par with AAdvantage or Hyatt, so there’s that.

(Special thanks to Garth for introducing the card to me.)

What’s going on in my mind at any given moment: trying to get one of these stupid wheels to turn.

Two new credit cards entered the travel hacking sphere this week. It’s too early to tell how gameable they’ll be, but it’s not too early to get an opinion on how useful they seem from a site that has no financial interest whatsoever vested in whether or not you apply for a credit card.

To that end, today I’ve tried to summarize what’s unique about these cards and leave out crap that won’t matter to most of you, because usually that stuff is just chaff to make you think you’re getting a bigger value then you’ll probably end up with (see the $120 annual Equinox credit).

Captial One Venture X

Affiliate-free information page: Capital One Venture X

Sign-up Bonus100,000 Capital One points after spending $10,000 in six months
Annual Fee$395, not waived for the first year
Bonus Categories– 10x Hotels and Rental cards only when booked through the Capital One travel portal
– 5x on Flights only when booked through the Capital One Travel Portal
Major benefits– Primary rental car protection
– Trip delay protection (for delays six hours or longer, or overnight)
– Cell phone protection
– 10,000 bonus points every card renewal
– $300 travel credit
Issuer quirks– Capital One pulls from all three major credit bureaus
– If your credit score is too high (say, above 800), they probably won’t approve you
– You may have better odds of approval if you note that you often carry balances during the application

Is this card worth it the first year? I think so. The points you earn from $10,000 in spending for the sign up bonus and the $300 travel credit will cover the annual fee, and you’ll still have the bonus to use to pay for travel directly or to transfer partners.

Is this card worth it for year two and beyond? No, probably not. Capital One’s transfer partners certainly lag the offerings of Chase and American Express, and likely lag those of Citi too. They also lack a good hotel transfer partner. After year one, I’d rather keep:

  • A Citi Double Cash and a Citi Premier which will have a total annual fee of $95 with stronger earning potential and the same to better transfer partners.
  • An American Express Personal Gold which has a total annual fee of $295, stronger earning potential, and better transfer partners
  • A Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Preferred which has a total annual fee of $95, stronger earning potential, and much better transfer partners

American Express Morgan Stanley Blue Cash Preferred

Affiliate-free information page: AmEx Morgan Stanley Blue Cash Preferred

Sign-up Bonus$300 after spending $3,000 in three months
Annual Fee$95, waived for the first year
Bonus Categories– 6% at grocery stores and supermarkets, but only up to $6,000 per year
– 3% on gas stations and transit (but not airfare or car rentals)
Major benefits– $100 annual credit after spending $15,000
– 0% interest for all purchases within the first year
Issuer quirks– American Express probably won’t do a hard pull of your credit if you already have another American Express
– You have to have a Morgan Stanley brokerage account to qualify ($5,000 in Access will do)
– You won’t be able to use a referral link for this card, it’s only available by head-on application

Is this card worth it the first year? Well, if you don’t have another good manufactured spend card for gas stations, probably yes. If you do though, the real benefit is the $300 sign-up bonus — and that’s pretty weak compared to $750+ offers seen elsewhere.

Is this card worth it for year two and beyond? If you don’t have another card that bonuses at gas stations and you’re good at manufactured spend, definitely. $15,000 worth of manufactured gas station spend to offset the annual fee is child’s play with Speedway.

That said, I’d rather just have a Citi Double Cash and a Citi Premier which earns transferrable miles, has better earning potential for the long term and also earns 3x at gas stations, and it can still be cashed out at the same rate. That combo also has a $95 annual fee, but doesn’t offer a published benefit for offsetting that with spend (of course a retention call to Citi will typically yield the same end-result).

What I Did

Morgan Stanley Blue Cash Preferred: I have better options for gas stations than the Morgan Stanley Blue Cash Preferred, so I wrote this card off.

Capital One Venture X: I applied with the intent of holding it for one year, and I was denied (likely my credit score is too high).

Good luck out there, and have a drink for me at the Venture X party if you make the cut!

The Capital One Venture X party that excluded me. (With thanks to @nutella for the updated BoA image.)

1. It’s time to buy BestBuy gift cards for resale at Amazon (or to buy regular merchandise if that’s how you roll). Check for the following offers:

  • Discover 40% off up to $40 back when using at least one point
  • American Express 30% off up to $30 back when using at least one Membership Rewards point
  • Chase 50% off up to $15 back when using at least one Ultimate Rewards point

With all of these you should use only one point because the redemption value isn’t great. Also combine with any bonus offers linked to your cards if you have them (AmEx currently has a 5x offer at Amazon for example). If the offers aren’t showing for you on Amazon’s site: unlink the relevant cards, wait a couple hours, add the cards back, wait a couple of hours, then try again. That’ll usually do the trick to get you eligible.

2. Check your email for a targeted spending offer on the no annual-fee Citi Shop Your Way Rewards Mastercard (a still future Miles Earn and Burn Unsung Hero card). The current offer is 10x at home improvement and electronics stores up to $12,500 in spend, and it of course works in tandem with another offer for 10% back on utility payments up to $500 in spend per month until January. Look for emails with the following subject (but prolly replace Matthew with your name, because duh):

  • “Matthew, your limited-time offer is here. Activate now.”
  • “Matthew, activate your bonus rewards offer!”

3. Check for the following American Express coupons offers:

  • 5x at Amazon
  • $25 back on $250 at BestBuy
  • $40 back on $200 at Hertz
  • $200 back on $1,000 at Delta Vacations (hint: You can book Disney with Delta Vacations)

There are other good ones too, just clip those coupons save them to your account.

The feel that American Express is evidently shooting for with their ultra-premium Platinum and Centurion cards.

Q4 is a great time to be in the game, and there are a few MS opportunities that cropped up over the weekend to kick it up a notch:

1. CashApp has an interesting boost for 10% back on online purchases at Sam’s Club up to $20, once per day between now and November 23. GC Galore also just broke news that Sam’s Club is officially recognizing gift cards for rebates with shopping portals. As of this writing, JetBlue has 3x at Sam’s and TopCashBack has 2% back, so between the two you’re looking at a 12% discount or better on $200 in gift cards every day for the next three weeks or so.

Best options: Vanilla Visa, Vanilla Mastercard, and Disney (thanks to Kyle for the Disney tip.) If you’re not currently a Sam’s Club member, spin up a new email address that you haven’t used before and you can get a new membership for $45 with a $45 Sam’s gift card included.

2. I’m getting bored with office supply store deals and getting really sick of $200 Metabank gift cards. In case you’re not like me, Staples has your back with another fee free $200 Visa gift card for up to five cards per transaction. The deal runs between now and Saturday. I’ll be sitting this one out because it’s too distracting with all the other Q4 shenanigans and the deluge of crazy FinTechs launching new products.

3. The Point debit card has double earning between whenever you get your updated card in the mail and the end of the year. That makes it effectively a 2% cash back debit card, or more if you spend in bonus categories (currently 10x on subscriptions for streaming, 6x on rideshare and delivery, 30x at Nike, 40x at HBO Max, 10x at Whole Foods, 10x at Amazon, 10x at Costco, 10x at Trader Joes, and 10x at coffee shops after doubling).

If you don’t currently have a Point debit card, sign up through a referral because you’ll get a $100 sign-up bonus rather than the public $10 bonus. Unfortunately though, they raised the annual fee to $99 for the card, but at least opening one doesn’t do a credit pull or affect Chase 5/24. If you want a card, find a friend for a referral and make their day, but if you can’t find a friend reach out to me and I’ll hook you up.

I don’t think I understood going up a notch until now, but I guess it means going from “bail” to “cabin”. Go cabin everyone!

The Elephant (s) in the Room

Surely you’ve read about the AA elite changes, Marriott point and certificate changes, and Hyatt peak/off-peak changes in a thousand different places so I’m not going to add another “me too” type post, but here are a few concise summaries without all the fluff for your future reference:

  • AA changes (to elite status only, award changes not expected for a long time)
  • Hyatt changes (hotels cost more during peak, less during off-peak, and the same in “normal” times)
  • Marriott changes (#bonvoyed)

What I Really Wanted to Post

With that out of the way, let’s talk about how crazy American Express can be right now, and I hope you can replicate what I did. Background: I opened a Personal Gold card 364 days ago. The annual fee will hit when the statement closes in a few days, so it was a great time to check on a retention offer over chat. I did that, and then a few more shenanigans because reasons:

  • Accepted a retention offer of 30,000 Membership Rewards after $3,000 spend in 90 days
  • Followed this link for an upgrade offer to a Platinum with 25,000 Membership Rewards after spending $10,000 in 90 days, and a bonus 10x on spend at grocery for up to $15,000 in spend from the same card
  • Referred a Player 2 for a new American Express card for a bonus +4x for up to $25,000 in spend for 90 days from the same card

American Express offers stack, and that means that at grocery stores, this card will earn:

  • 24x for the first $3,000 in spend
  • 14x for the next $12,000 in spend
  • 5x for the last $10,000 in spend

You can do this too as long as you’ve got a Personal Gold or Green card that’s been open for at least a year. It’s a good thing that BestBuy gift card resale rates are high right now, amirite?

Basking in the Membership Rewards downpour (with a bonus Easter Egg for Garth)