There’s a triple for today, but first let’s talk some blog meta: A week from Friday it’s time for the MEAB annual Travel Hacking as told by GIFs post, and frankly that post is a ton of fun but also a bunch of work. The biggest part of the work is deciding which travel hacking events or changes for the year were significant, and while I’ve come up with a dozen or two, I could use your help. Drop me a line and let me know from your perspective which events in 2021 should be addressed. Thanks in advance!

Back to our regular programming:

1. Delta is having an award sale to Cancun and Los Cabos from various US Cities. Sale prices depend on the city, but range between 11,000 miles round trip and 22,000 miles round trip. Use Delta’s flexible calendar search for the quickest results. (Thanks to DDG)

2. In a move that surprised absolutely positively no-one, Office Depot/OfficeMax has $15 back on $300 or more in Visa gift cards running through Saturday evening (or likely Friday evening, because, you know, reasons). To maximize the deal:

  • Buy the “Everywhere” variety of gift cards for lower fees, but make sure you have a way to liquidate (Bravo is still a higher fee way)
  • Link your card to Dosh
  • Link your card to Rakuten’s in-store offer for 5x cash back at Office Depot/OfficeMax and activate the offer
  • Check your Chase offers or Bank of America offers for $10 or more in cash back at Office Depot/OfficeMax
  • Try and get at least two and perhaps more transactions through back-to-back with the cashier

A caveat on the Rakuten card-linked program: Every time you use an offer you have to go back to the site and activate it again.

3. Stockpile has increased their fee-free gift card purchase when using a credit card to $1,000 per-transaction. According to DoC, the annual gift card limit has moved from $1,000 to $2,000, but I don’t think either of those limits were or are true. I was able to get more even before the change. For best success though:

  • Get a new IP address every couple of transactions
  • Use a new email address every couple of transactions
  • Use private mode in your browser
  • Use a credit card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited, Citi Double Cash, or American Express Blue Business Preffered that earns 2x on these transactions (or the US Bank Altitude Reserve for true hackers). Update: Chaim from HelpMeBuildCredit wrote in to remind me that Stockpile doesn’t take American Express

Apropos of nothing, I’d like to share this here because no-one else would understand. This morning, my P2 said to me: “You’re the worst to shop for. All I can come up with is to buy you $1,000 in BestBuy gift cards and let you turn those into points or something.” 😂

A machine that shreds BestBuy plastic gift-cards and turns them into showers of points. (Patent pending)

You’ve got just a little over a week and a half before “reset to factory defaults” happens on just about everything we do. Set aside a bit of time to take care of the following this week:

1. Spend any American Express credits in Uber Eats or Uber, and remember that your December Uber Wallet size is quite a bit bigger than other months when Platinum cards are involved.

2. Check for any annual fees that posted and call the bank for a retention offer, or just chat online if the bank is American Express. Some sample phraseology: “I’m thinking of closing this card because of its high annual fee, but before I decide what to do I was wondering if there are any retention offers or spend bonuses.” If you get an offer, don’t forget to add: “Are there any other offers available?” Sometimes there are better offers if you keep asking.

American Express specific note: If you accept a retention offer, plan on keeping that card for 12-13 months to avoid getting popups that deny credit card bonuses in the future

3. If you have an American Express co-branded personal card (Marriott, Delta, Hilton), make sure you’ve attached the dining offer to your card and spend it soon. The easiest way to do this from home is to buy an exact value Amazon Meals gift card on Fluz. As always, find a Fluz referral from a friend to make their day if you don’t have an account already, they’ll earn something and so will you.

3. Spend any American Express co-branded business card wireless credits by tomorrow night, but make sure you’ve added the offer to your cards first. Don’t forget that American Express Business Platinum cards have a $10 monthly credit too, just make sure you’ve activated it on your benefits page.

4. Make sure you’ve spent any $10 American Express Personal Gold dining credits. My go to is the local coffee shop for a coffee and a crepe which jumps just north of $10 on GrubHub. Buying physical gift cards at a ShakeShack is another option.

5. Cancel any cell phone burner accounts that you’re done with (and for which you didn’t use a virtual credit card number that already expired).

6. Finish off any Q4 5x bonused spend on Chase Freedom cards, Discover IT cards, US Bank Cash+ cards, Citi Custom Cash cards, or similar.

7. Book any American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts (or The Hotel Collection) stays with your $200 Platinum credit for upcoming travel next year, even if it’s speculative. Historically American Express’s systems lose their memory after the calendar rolls, so keep that in mind.

8. Use your Chase Sapphire Reserve $300 travel credit, and remember that it works on groceries this year too.

9. Use your American Express Platinum $200 airline incidental credit, Chase Ritz Carlton $300 airline incidental credit, or PenFed PathFinder $100 airline incidental credit. United TravelBank is a great way to do this. On the American Express card, make sure you’ve selected an airline first. By the way, you can change your airline selection at any time as long as you haven’t yet used any during this calendar year, just call or chat with AmEx.

10. Use any American Express Sak’s $50 credits, but make sure you activate the benefit first. I personally make sure and stop by a physical Sak’s store and buy gift cards to resell at approximately 83% of face value, but if that’s not a good option for you, Agile.Travel put together a nice list of options for things to buy.

11. It’s time for some shenanigans with American Express Clear credits (yes, there are options) so burn those or gift them to a friend. Side note: Soon, it looks like you’ll be able to buy Clear gift cards for resale.

12. Check for any credit card spend bonuses that you may want to hit before the end of the year, like:

  • World of Hyatt Visa free night certificate after $15,000 spend
  • American Express Hilton Surpass and Honors Business free night certificate after $15,000 spend
  • American Express Hilton Aspire second free night certificate after $60,000 spend
  • American Express Delta Platinum MQM boosts after $25,000 and $50,000 spend
  • American Express Delta Reserve MQM boosts after $30,000, $60,000, $90,000, and $120,000 spend
  • British Airways Visa companion ticket after $50,000 spend
  • JetBlue Visa Mosaic status after $50,000 spend

Good luck out there.

The American Express master control panel. They’ve made great use of the turbo button for all of 2021, but a tech earning $12 / hour will push the reset button at 11:59 PM EST on December 31 so be ready.


In October I signed an LLC up for Brex using their TravelBank partner landing page (no, I don’t have a TravelBank account). The sign-up bonus through that link is 75,000 points for spending $1,000 in 30 days, which I knocked out within 24 hours of funding. Side note: You can get another 20,000 points easily by linking PayPal to Brex as your “payroll provider”, which I also did.

On Monday of this week I was looking at the “Bank Bonuses” section of my manufactured spend tracking Google Sheet and saw that 60 days had passed since signing up for the account and meeting the terms of the bonus, so I logged on to the account to make sure that the 75,000 points had posted. Spoiler alert: They hadn’t.

I double checked the landing page’s sign-up bonus terms and also that I had spent $1,000 in the first 30 days, then chatted with Brex using their live chat. It took about 10 minutes, but the support representative confirmed that I met the terms of the offer and said the points would post in 24 hours. Several hours later, I got an email notifying me that the points were in my account. There isn’t more to the story: the points were indeed in my account. Brex’s support had the meatball.


If I didn’t have at least a tiny sliver of tracking, I probably would have forgotten that the bonus should have posted because between then and now I’ve done a dozen other sign-up or spend bonuses and it’s easy to let one slip through the cracks. It would have cost me 75,000 Brex points, which is worth at least $750 and potentially quite a bit more with mileage transfer partners.

Tracking might sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s what I tracked on my “Bank Bonuses” tab of the spreadsheet:

  • Account open date (October something, 2021)
  • Target (Brex)
  • Sign-up bonus terms (75,000 points after $1,000 spend in 30 days)
  • Bonus received? (No)

What’s your point, MEAB?

Make sure you’ve got at least basic tracking in some form for sign-up bonuses so you’re not letting money slip through the cracks. It’s surprisingly easy in this game to have a $500 gift card sitting on your desk that you forgot about, a spend bonus that didn’t post, a BestBuy gift card sitting in a stack that was never entered into anything, a gift card email that you marked as read and never saw again, or some other mishap. Please do at least the minimum necessary to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.

If you’re not sure where to start, The Daily Churn Podcast recently posted an episode on credit card tracking along with their Google Sheets template. If you don’t have something like that, perhaps make a copy and start your own? It could mean an extra $750 to spend on your favorite stock, or I guess you could buy 750 Arby’s Roast Beef Sandwiches if they’re running a 5 for $5 special, but that might also be your last weekend on Earth after your massive heart attack, so, ymmv.

Have a great weekend!

You don’t have to track 750 of these “beauties” to know what you’re getting.

Do this now: Register for Hilton’s Q1 Promotion for 2,500 bonus points per stay from January 1 through May 1.

1. The PenFed Pathfinder Visa credit card has a new targeted offer for a $150 statement credit for adding an authorized user by December 31.

What’s that? You haven’t heard of this card before? Well, I’m not terribly surprised. The card hasn’t exactly achieved Unsung Hero status, but still probably worth your attention because:

  • The card has effectively a $425 sign-up bonus (50,000 points at 0.85 cents each)
  • The card gives a $100 airline incidental credit every year
  • The card has effectively no-annual fee (the $95 annual-fee is waived every year as long as you have a free PenFed Access America checking account)
  • The card has offered multiple spending bonuses this year (like $50 back after spending $500)
  • The card is churnable
  • You can hold multiple Pathfinder cards simultaneously

Everyone can join PenFed for $5, and PenFed is an excellent target for shenanigans.

2. The HMBradley 3.0% APR bank account is going to require that you hold the HMBradley credit card to continue to qualify for 3.0% APR on up to $100,000 starting on February 1, 2022. (Thanks to chooseyourusername17)

As an alternative high-yield option, you may want to consider a Series I Savings Bond, which will pay at minimum of about 3.56% APR, and probably quite a bit more. Free-quent Flyer has posted an excellent in-depth article with more information.

3. Check your Marriott Bonvoy account for new targeted promotions. There have been multiple reports of earning opportunities for free-night certificates, like this one.

4. Get ready to plan your summer travel because the next Southwest Airlines schedule extension is expected today and it will cover most summer travel, with an extension through September 5. There are two reasons this is interesting:

  • On many routes, the cheapest fares sell-out quickly, so booking early will typically get the best price
  • Southwest will probably tweak their schedule for far-away flights and let you change to any other flight on the same route ± two weeks for no-additional charge; so book the cheapest flight you can find in that window and wait for a likely schedule change to switch to the flight you want

Good luck out there.

Sample path available to PathFinder Visa cardholders (and non-PathFinder Visa cardholders too, but they have less fun.)

1. Southwest has 20% off of fares to or from Hawaii for travel between March 11 and May 12 of next year, which includes Spring Break for most of the US, use promo-code HAWAIISALE.

2. Yesterday’s deal with SimplyMiles turned out to be a giant disaster after all, because of course it did when AA was involved. The gist:

  • They took the site down yesterday morning (it was timing out on all requests)
  • They site came back and they put a banner up saying that only purchases before a (probably incorrect) time were honored
  • They removed the banner all-together
  • They messaged that they’re “working with Mastercard” to everyone who wrote in and asked about status

First, I’m terribly sorry if I got you involved in this deal and it ends up wasting your time. Second, I hope it works out for you whether or not you end up wasting time. And because you didn’t ask, here’s my prediction for how this will go:

Usually, ill-conceived promotions turn into flaming meteors that crash into full dumpsters outside of a liquor store — so, I guess that.

3. One of my absolute favorite long-term deals of the last year was fee-free Vanilla Visa gift cards at because:

  • Vanilla Visa gift cards work in quite a few more places than Metabank/BHN Visa gift cards
  • continues to work well with American Express cards (unlike
  • The “flash sale” ended up lasting over five months even though it was supposed to be just a couple of days

Well, rejoice (maybe) because that flash sale is back for 2021 using the code FLASH2021. The code was just announced yesterday and as of this writing is supposed to expire yesterday, but I have high hopes that it won’t actually expire. Give the code a shot today, and keep it in your back-pocket because it’s possible that it will continue to work well into 2022.

A dumpster outside of a liquor store waiting for the next fiery AA promotion to come crashing down.

1. American Express was clearly up too late Sunday night and was loopy from drinking a bottle of Tabasco and eating a jar of pickles on an empty stomach: As first reported by Slickdeals AmEx cards have some amazing and suspicious spending offers on the Membership Rewards family of cards. Reportedly offers have been seen for:

  • $1,000 back after spending $1,000 up to 3 times
  • $3,500 back after spending $2,000 up to 3 times
  • $4,500 back after spending $2,500 up to 3 times

Almost certainly this was meant to be a Membership Rewards points offer and not a cash-back offer, but well into Monday night the offer was still showing as cash-back. Check your cards here, and if you’ve got the offer I do suggest spending on the card on the off-chance that it works, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up with just Membership Rewards points as your bonus in the end.

2. A strange SimplyMiles deal has been percolating since Friday night, and honestly I didn’t believe that it was correct and didn’t want to waste your time while you tried to chase a lame unicorn, but I was wrong. What’s the deal? SimplyMiles is giving 6x on all of their outstanding offers for the first three redemptions on your account now through December 27, 2021. (In case you’re not aware, SimplyMiles is a card linked program for Mastercard issued cards that earns AA miles.)

The kicker is that Gary confirmed that that 6x doesn’t mean +6x, it means *6x, so a 40 miles per dollar deal actually means 6*40 miles, or 240 miles per dollar. The best offers on my account:

  • 40 miles per dollar for donating to Conservation International, apparently an unlimited cap
    • 6*40 = 240 miles per dollar with the offer
  • 1,500 miles for a purchase of $45 or more at CVS
    • 6*1,500 = 9,000 miles with the offer
  • 1,500 miles for a purchase of $200 or more at BestBuy
    • 6*1,500 = 9,000 miles with the offer

Those are pretty amazing offers and I did each one the moment the deal was confirmed to be real. Who doesn’t want an AA Web Special economy flight for buying a $50 gift card at CVS anyway?

Good luck out there, and may your day be even wackier than these two deals!

Eat approximately two pounds of these to propel yourself to American Express levels of whackiness.

Hello friends! Let’s start the week off right with a few quick hits and a few big deals:

1. Here’s an updated link for the Delta Platinum 7,500 miles authorized user bonus from last Thursday, give this one a shot in case the other one didn’t work for you.

2. A follow-up from a week ago: my application for the US Bank Business Triple Cash card was approved with a ginormous credit line. How I’m going to play it: Hit the minimum spend to earn $500, lower all of my US Bank credit lines, then apply for three or four more of these before the offer goes away.

3. Rakuten’s card-linked cash back program has added BestBuy, Walmart, Gamestop, and Walgreens cash back at 5%, which blows the Staples 2.5% that we discussed in early December out of the water. Each of these stores sells one or more valuable gift cards, and each of them will let you buy those gift cards with a credit card (like perhaps an Amex that has an 99 employee card for 1.8 million points offer and a +4x offer attached?) Just don’t forget to link your cards to Rakuten and click “Link Offer” in your account.

The last time Rakuten had great partners with their card linked program it all went well for a while until they shut down a few accounts doing major volume in gift card purchases. So, add a kombucha, a banana, and a usb cable to your purchase to mask what you’re doing. At 5% cash-back, you can afford to treat yourself to America’s favorite fruit.

4. I think that Staples has had more weeks with a gift card sale going than weeks without one in 2021. Maybe next year I’ll post only if they’re not running a promo to save everyone time. That said, it isn’t next year yet, so… Staples is having a $200 fee-free sale on Visa gift cards issued by Metabank running through Saturday, limit five per transaction. (Thanks to GC Galore)

Liquidation? Try bill-pay services and try grocery stores that aren’t Kroger or Safeway/Albertsons; also, maybe look at the Western Union agent locator. Remember, the velociraptors in the documentary Jurassic Park found weaknesses in the electric fence that separated them from the money order terminals by probing. Be a velociraptor.

5. American Express has a 20% transfer bonus to Singapore Krisflyer, and Gary pointed out that this stacks with a promotion that Singapore Airlines is running through the end of February for Star Alliance Gold status. I’m calling this out because if you fly United a lot, and I mean a lot, and if you want to redeem a Singapore award for you and P2 (and maybe P3+) in the next couple of months you could get a ton of value because Star Alliance gold status through Singapore will get you into United Clubs when flying United Airlines (and a free checked bag, but if you’re flying United a lot then they’ve already lost your bag so you don’t have one to check, and you didn’t have to pay for them to lose it thanks to your status).

Just do this one on or after January 1 so that you’ve got effectively 25 months of club access (through February 2024).

The victory scene in Jurassic Park when the velociraptors successfully buy a money order.

I book a bunch of trips every month (fun fact: I cancel about 40-50% of them), and as a result I’ve developed a playbook for how to handle flights as departure nears. And by using the playbook I’m able to get around most delays as long as there’s more than a single option for flights. I’m also usually able to do that without waiting in any lines at the airport or gate, and without sitting in the airport watching rolling delays.

To wit: Yesterday my original flight was delayed by a little over two hours because the aircraft was passing through SLC earlier in the day, and SLC had a big winter-storm at the same time. The delay for my flight didn’t post until about 15 minutes before boarding. But, I knew it was going to happen hours prior and I already had a backup plan. I wanted to write up my game-day playbook to give you ideas for doing the same in the future so let’s dive in eh?

About 12 hours before departure:

  • Check the FAA Delay Map for a quick view on any airports that aren’t operating at, err, peak-efficiency
  • Check flightaware for the booked flight
  • Figure out where the aircraft is coming from
  • Click “track inbound flight” repeatedly until I see all the aircraft’s prior flights to its inbound flight, and I also note the time on the ground between flights for each airport the aircraft will stop at (anything less than 45 minutes is almost certainly an airline pipe dream, and you can assume that those legs will be delayed)
  • Set alerts in the airline’s app or in flightaware for the flight and for the inbound flight

Once I know where the bad airports are and I know all the routes my inbound aircraft is flying before getting to me, I’ll have a good sense for whether or not my flight will be delayed due to weather, congestion, airport closures, or other external factors (of course mechanical issues, dented aircraft, San Francisco fog, or any other number of things could delay the flight too — but those things are harder to predict).

If my flight is going to pass through an airport on the delay map or if it has a bunch of overly optimistic 20 minute turns (I’m looking at you, United Express), I’ll proactively call the airline and ask nicely to switch to an alternative flight with a better chance of going out (side note: I use ITA Matrix with forced carriers to find alternatives that may not appear on the airline’s own site.) At 12 hours out, getting another routing is easier than you probably think it is — often just saying “the plane is flying through Newark in a few hours and Newark has major delays, could I switch?” is enough to get the alternative routing you want.

About 2 hours before departure:

Again, I’m at a decision point: if anything looks sketchy, I may want to jump to my own backup booking or rebook on an alternative flight on the same airline. The two hour mark here is key because alternative flights probably haven’t filled up, none of them are likely to be under gate-control, and other non-avgeek passengers on your flight haven’t done anything proactively yet. This is also the point where if you call the airline it’s very easy to switch to another flight by mentioning issues with the inbound aircraft, even if they haven’t posted in the airline’s system. (Side note: New ticketing while a flight is under gate-control is something I don’t wish on my worst enemy, it’s like another layer of hell.)

Boarding time

The first thing to check when boarding time hits is whether or not the aircraft is at the gate. If it’s not, you’re probably going to be delayed and it may be again time to jump to flightaware to see where the aircraft is. (Hopefully it’s not diverted to Lubbock, TX, which has happened to me twice. Thanks United Airlines.)

Most US airlines board 5-10 minutes later than the boarding time printed on the boarding pass or at the podium, but it’s very rare for the airline to start boarding any later than those 10 minutes unless something is going on. If 15 minutes have passed from the posted boarding time and no one is getting on, it’s time to investigate: Is the aircraft door open? Is the gate door open? Is anyone walking around the aircraft? Is luggage being loaded? Is there someone with a maintenance vest wandering around?

If anything looks fishy, it’s time to explore alternatives on the current airline and other airlines, so if/when a delay posts I already know what I want to do and what’s available. If I think the airline is going to have a long hold-time or wait at the lounge/customer service desk, I may dial-in or line-up to get myself in the queue at this point too.

Once on-board

The last thing I do once I’m on-board is cancel any backup flights that I may have booked. Trying to do anything else with your itinerary is basically out of your hands at that point, so, the only thing left to do is to get annoyed when you’re approaching your destination and the flight attendant announces “ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been cleared to land so please […]”. Why should you be annoyed by that? Well, I absolutely, positively guarantee that you haven’t been cleared to land — that happens within 3-5 miles of the airport, or the last two minutes or so of the flight. The more you know.

Happy weekend travel hackers!

This is what came up in image search for “layers of hell”. I can’t say I understand why that happened, but it’s demonstrably correct.