50% off Awards at Select IHG Hotels in Mexico, Central America, Caribbean

InterContinental Presidente Cozumel Resort Spa Mexico 50% off

InterContinental Presidente Cozumel Resort Spa Mexico
Source: Hotel website

Here’s something exciting coming from the hotel industry: IHG is offering 50% off award redemptions at select hotels in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. What’s surprising is that some pretty high-end properties are included in the promotion, including three Intercontinental properties:

  • InterContinental® Presidente Ixtapa Resort, Mexico (50,000 points per night)
  • InterContinental® Playa Bonita Resort & Spa, Panama (25,000 points per night)
  • InterContinental® Presidente Cozumel Resort Spa, Mexico (30,000 points per night)
  • Crowne Plaza® hotel Acapulco, Mexico (20,000 points per night)
  • Holiday Inn Resort® Aruba (25,000 points per night)
  • Holiday Inn Resort® Grand Cayman (25,000 points per night)
  • Holiday Inn Resort® Acapulco, Mexico (20,000 points per night)
  • Holiday Inn Resort® Los Cabos All Inclusive, Mexico (35,000 points per night)
  • Holiday Inn Resort® Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (30,000 points per night)
  • Holiday Inn® hotel Cancun Arenas, Mexico (35,000 points per night)
  • Holiday Inn Express® hotel Playa del Carmen, Mexico (15,000 points per night)

The InterContinental Presidente Cozumel Resort Spa, Mexico has been voted the #5 Cozumel hotel on Tripadvisor and has been listed among the Top 25 Luxury hotels in Mexico.

These discounted awards can be booked between April 20 – May 3 for travel between May 1 – June 12, 2014. If you’re hoping to travel with your family, this falls right before summer break for most people, which isn’t ideal. On the other hand, these dates are ideal for college students (not going to summer school) and those of you who can come and go as you please. You’ll enjoy great weather and fewer crowds.

If you’re short on IHG Rewards points, you can transfer Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 ratio or buy them at roughly $6.75 per 1,000 points with IHG’s current bonus point promotion. The booking period starts on Sunday, so mark your calendars!

For more on points, miles, and free travel, subscribe to my blog (see “Subscribe” above “Recent Posts”) or follow me @PointChaser,  Facebook, or Instagram

Targeted: 3X Miles at Home Improvement Stores with Alaska Airlines Visa Card

Bank of America Alaska Category Bonus

Bank of America is taking a page out of the Chase Freedom book with a limited-time category bonus offer for targeted customers. Through June 30, members who register with a targeted code earn 3 miles per $1 spent at home improvement stores.

If you’re an Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Cardholder, you may be getting a 3-page pamphlet via mail. The pamphlet includes a sixteen digit registration code along with instructions on how to register online, via phone, or by scanning a QR code. When I registered for this offer, I was not asked for my card number – I just entered the registration code and received a message that the bonus was activated. So there is no way to use someone else’s registration code for your own account.

Bofa Alaska Airlines Visa 3x Bonus

The following merchants are considered home improvement stores for the sake of this promotion:

  • Hardware stores
  • Home supply stores
  • Lumber/building supply stores
  • Glass/paint/wallpaper stores
  • Hardware stores
  • Furniture stores
  • Floor covering stores
  • Window covering/upholstery stores
  • Garden supply
  • Florists

The bonus is capped at 2,500 miless (meaning just $1,250 in purchases qualify for the bonus), which is pretty paltry if you were planning on making a big purchase with a qualifying merchant. On the plus side, florists are included, which is perfect timing with Mother’s Day coming up. Many airline shopping portals run generous bonus point promotions on florist purchases around Mother’s Day. Combine one of those shopping portal bonuses with the 3x mile payout and it really ads up.

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20% Discount on United Awards to Mexico City

United Airlines Devaluation

United is really trying to get back into the good graces of disgruntled customers. A while back, they were offering discounted awards to Japan and now they’re offering 20% off awards to Mexico City. These awards usually require 35,000 miles round-trip but are now available for 28,000.

It’s pretty random to pick Mexico City of all the places in the country, but it’s good for those who were planning on using their United miles to travel there anyway. Awards must be booked by April 29, 2014 (11:59 PM CT) for travel between May 1 – 31, 2014. The 20% discount applies only to round-trip saver awards on United operated flights.

This isn’t something I’m going to jump on, but I do hope United continues to offer these discounted redemptions to select destinations. While I wish they were in premium cabins (one can only dream) I may just bite the bullet and deal with economy on United if a good offer comes along.

HT: Frequentflier

Anyone going to redeem their massively devalued miles for a trip to Mexico City?

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Current Cash Back Portal Payouts on American Express Gift Cards

Cash back on American Express Gift Card

Update 4/16: It appears the payout from the Barclay RewardBoost portal has decreased to 2 points per $1 spent. Combined with the Arrival card, this can still be lucrative at 4 points per $1, but converting the 4 points to cash would result in just 2% cash back.

Since the Vanilla Reload shut down, I’ve gone straight to Plan B. That will involve buying American Express gift cards through a shopping portal and using those to buy Visa gift cards (instead of Vanilla Reloads) to offset purchase fees. You can buy up to $5,000 worth of personal gift cards per day, every 14 days. Be sure to check this Flyertalk thread before placing your order to ensure the credit card you’re using does not process these as a cash advance. Cash advances come with fees and do not points or miles, defeating the purpose of this exercise.

Currently, American Express is offering codes that waive the card fees altogether. If you’re going through a shopping portal, it’s important to use the codes provided by the portal, otherwise you may forfeit the points. Below are the portals you can go through, the cash back amount you’ll earn:

Barclay Rewards Booster - 4 miles per $1

Use your Barclay Arrival Card to purchase American Express gift cards through the Barclay Rewards Booster site and you’ll get a combined 6 miles per $1 (or 6% back in travel credits) back on your purchase. If you order the daily maximum of $5,000, you’re looking at 30,000 miles, which can be redeemed for a whopping $300 in travel credits. The way these work is you simply charge travel expenses to your card (i.e. hotels, airfare, car rental) and then request statement credits to cover those expenses. Each mile is worth 1 cent in credits, and you’ll get 10% of your redeemed miles back.

Ordering just $10,000 worth of American Express gift cards every month at 6 miles per $1 amounts to $7,200 worth of travel credits each year. It’s like getting the sign-up bonus from the Arrival card 15 times over.

HT to Michelle for sharing the 4 mile/$1 offer from the Barclay Rewards Booster portal.

TopCashBack – 2%

TopCashBack is currently offering the second highest cash back offer at 2% cash back on consumer and business cards. The down side is that TopCashBack is that this offer is only good on $500 gift cards. In the past, TCB has paid out on gift cards in larger increments as well as cancelled orders. However, recently when I requested cash for my purchase, I was alerted that TCB would be much more vigilant about only paying out cash back on eligible purchases.

Big Crumbs - 1.2%

This isn’t the highest cash back offer, but there are two factors that give Big Crumbs an advantage over the other portals: 1. Big Crumbs is far less prone to tracking issues than, say, TopCashBack. 2. Big Crumbs occasionally runs promotions offering upwards of 3.5% cash back along with purchase fee waiver codes. The fact that you also earn 0.2% cash back from the people you refer is a plus.

Despite being more reliable, I’m not going with Big Crumbs unless they at least match TopCashBack. I’m not worried about tracking issues with other sites, as I’ve made it a habit to take screenshots from click-through to purchase no matter which portal I’m using.

Ebates -1%

I’ve used eBates for other cash back offers and have generally had a pleasant experience. If they do up their offer past 1%, I’m happy to switch over as I’ve never had a tracking issue with them before. Ebates also has a pretty generous referral system, with bonuses paid out based on the number of referrals.

Mr. Rebates - 1%

I’ve never used Mr. Rebates to purchase American Express gift cards and wouldn’t use it now at just 1%. Again, it’s good to be aware of the cash back portal options and to check them frequently for higher offers. It’s worth noting that if you refer friends to Mr. Rebates, you will get 20% of their cash back.

BeFrugal – 1%

Recently, BeFrugal was offering 3% cash back on American Express gift cards, which is now down to 1%. This is a portal worth checking the next time you place an order for American Express gift cards, as the cash back amount may bounce back up to 3%.

Cash back portals not only make manufactured spending affordable, at times it’s downright profitable. While you are limited to just $5,000 every two weeks, in a year that amounts to 120,000 points/miles and a few thousand dollars in profit. Use the points to cover airfare/hotels and use the cash back to splurge while you’re gallivanting through whatever amazing city previously seemed out of reach.

Disclosure: I will receive a commission if you sign up for the Barclay Arrival and shopping portals using the links in this post.

Note: Keep in mind that there are some issues related to ordering gift cards. Orders can get cancelled for various reasons, which are outlined in the Flyertalk thread.

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#TRLT at 10 AM (PT): Funding Travel

CVS stops accepting credit cards for Vanilla Reloads

During this week’s #TRLT chat we’ll be discussing how to fund travel on The Road Less Traveled. The chat starts at 10 AM (PT)/1 PM (ET) and we’ll be covering the following questions:

Q1. How do you fund your travels on The Road Less Travelled?

Q2. How do you find the cheapest deals on hotel and transport options?

Q3. What was the largest unexpected expense you’ve had to pay while traveling that you didn’t budget for?

Q4. How far in advance do you begin saving for your travels? via @tschoolfield_

Q5. What do you sacrifice that others might not consider (cable TV, new cars) to fund your travel? via @inthelooptravel

Be sure to join our Facebook Group to stay up to date on the latest chats and contribute your own chat ideas/questions every week.

For more on points, miles, and free travel, subscribe to my blog (see “Subscribe” above “Recent Posts”) or follow me @PointChaser,  Facebook, or Instagram

Getting Around Issues With $5 iTunes Credit from American Express

American Express Offers $5 iTunes credit

Lots of American Express cardholders have been targeted for the iTunes offer: Spend $5 at iTunes, get $5 back. A co-worker of mine told me that he currently has a large gift card credit on his iTunes account, and that he was unable to take advantage of the $5 statement credit offer because iTunes did not allow him to pay with a credit card when he had a gift card credit on his account. If you’re experiencing this problem, here is a way around it:

  1. Create a second iTunes account or use a friend’s/relative’s account.
  2. Add your American Express card as the preferred payment method for the iTunes account.
  3. Open up the iTunes on your computer. Go to the iTunes store, log out, then log in with the secondary account credentials.
  4. Make a purchase of at least $5. Your item will download onto YOUR iTunes library, since you’re doing this from your computer.
  5. Once the purchase is made, remove the payment information from the account, log out, and log back with your primary iTunes account information.
  6. Enjoy a $5 statement credit from American Express.

Before you do all of this, you’ll of course have to sign-up for the offer by logging into your American Express account and clicking “save” next to the $5 iTunes offer. With the new American Express offers site you can also take advantage of these offers by syncing your account to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms.

For more on points, miles, and free travel, subscribe to my blog (see “Subscribe” above “Recent Posts”) or follow me @PointChaser,  Facebook, or Instagram

Trip Report: Hilton Sydney

The Hilton Sydney is located near King Street, in the midst of a bustling shopping district. The hotel is a Category 8 property, requiring 40,000-70,000 points per night, with “Premium Rooms” going for over 88,000 points. That night, they were running a “promotional rate” of 59,736 points per night. This isn’t even close to a reasonable redemption level for a hotel outside of an exotic location, but I was looking to burn some Hilton points anyway, and ultimately it came down to which hotel chain offered me free breakfast and wifi. Since the Park Hyatt Sydney was just a tad bit out of my budget at $1,5000 per night and my IHG Platinum status didn’t guarantee complimentary breakfast, the Hilton won out.

The lobby was sleek and shiny, making a great first impression.

Hilton Sydney Check-in

When we arrived around 9 PM, there was a large group of Singapore Airlines flight attendants and pilots in the lobby. Unsurprisingly, there was no line at check-in at that hour. I made some small talk with the agent, who acknowledged my Gold status and that I’d be eligible for complimentary breakfast at Glass Brasserie the next morning.

Hilton Sydney Lobby

In turn, I asked if we also had club lounge access. I don’t care about lounge access, really. I was trying to parlay this into a room upgrade. She typed something into the computer and then told me we’d been upgraded to an Executive Room and while we had access to the club lounge, we should have breakfast at Glass Brasserie because “it’s better.”

Lounge access isn’t a benefit extended to Hilton Gold members unless they’ve been upgraded to a club room. So asking about lounge access is an innocuous way of asking for an upgrade. This usually just amounts to a room on a higher floor and/or with a better view. On the down side, Gold members are guaranteed breakfast and if you’ve been granted lounge access, you’re supposed to have your breakfast there (which usually isn’t as good as at the hotel restaurant). In any case, it worked out very well for us as we got a room upgrade, access to the lounge, and breakfast at the hotel restaurant.

One thing I found tacky (which wasn’t the case at the Park Hyatt) was the following, spelled out on a plaque at check-in:

Credit Card payments relating to Australian hotels incur a merchant service fee of 1.5% in addition to the total amount payable.

If you’re carrying a card that tacks on foreign transaction fees of 3%, you’re looking at a total of 4.5% in fees. That can add up on a long stay. Thankfully, I had my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, so at least I wasn’t being charged a fee by my credit card provider.

A chain like Hilton really shouldn’t take the convenience store approach when it comes to processing credit card transaction. On a week long stay, do they really expect people to go all Jordan Belfort and throw a wad of cash down on the front desk at check-out?

The Room

The room was pretty small, with a matching tiny bathroom, but whoever designed it did the best they could with the space. There were two twin beds. If you’re the type of person who rolls over in your sleep, you will definitely end up on the floor.

Hilton Sydney Twin Executive Room

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What to do If Walmart Stops Accepting Gift Cards for Money Order Purchases

Walmart Money Order

I simultaneously dislike Walmart and recognize that it keeps me in the manufactured spending game. I just saw something on Twitter that almost made me choke on my calorie bomb Twix Frappuccino. Twitter follower @SimonK was having an interaction with @PatMikeL about Walmart money orders.

Walmart Money Orders

As I’ve said before, money orders are an important tool in manufactured spending because they allow you to earn miles cheaply if you have a mile-earning debit card, and they make it easy to off-load Visa and Mastercard gift cards cheaply.

Now, there have been issues for some time with loading Bluebird with gift cards, but now it seems the Money Center cashiers are getting in on the fun by rejecting purchases made with prepaid/gift cards.  There are also reports on FlyerTalk of this happening: The cashier catches sight of your gift card and says you can’t use it.

I just unloaded some gift cards at Walmart earlier today without problems. That’s because I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in town involved in manufactured spending, and I manage to stay off the radar by keeping transactions under $3,000 and hopping around three different stores.

Despite the fact that you can split money order payments between four cards, I always stick to two. It’s understandable for most Walmart customers to not have $1,000 in a single account, so I’ve found the cashiers never have a problem with this. So I recommend you do this, in addition to swiping the card yourself (unless the cashier demands you hand over the card, which has never happened to me).

Despite how slow operations at Walmart are (judging by their retail stores alone), I do think eventually Walmart will put a stop to manufactured spending activities by implementing a cash-only policy for money order purchases. When this happens, my Plan B after the Vanilla Reload shut down will be eliminated and we’ll have to move on to Plan C:

1. American Express for Target. Back when I couldn’t find a Vanilla Reload source to save my life, the American Express for Target card was a good alternative. The fees are higher, but with American Express gift cards purchased through shopping portals, the fees are eliminated and you end up with a nice stash of points and a cash profit. Sure, it will be less with Amex for Target, but at least you have a way to unload your gift card balances. Beggars can’t be choosers, right?

2. Buy Money Orders elsewhere. I’ve looked everywhere: Grocery stores, drug stores, the US Post Office. Every one of these places requires cash for a money order. Don’t let my experience stop you though. You might have better luck at your local branch. Keep looking and you may stumble across a new gold mine.

3. Evolve. I have yet to use this service (and don’t have much use for it), but Evolve Money is a service that lets you pay certain bills using a PIN-enabled gift card. The list of participating merchants you can pay isn’t too extensive, but if you can find at least 1-2 bill to pay each month, that should help you offload at least one $500 Visa gift card or two. If your bills just aren’t high enough, see if you can pay a trusted friend/family member’s bills this way.

4. Amazon Payments. I’ve done what some folks would consider some pretty reckless things when it comes to manufactured spending, but it’s important to note that I never concentrate on a single activity or card. This is one I’m steering clear of. For years now, people have been sending money to each other using mile-earning credit cards via Amazon Payments. It’s been smooth sailing so far, but as more people are doing it and blogging about it, I think Amazon will catch on and shut people down. Maybe my fears are unfounded and I’m just paranoid, but I don’t want to risk account closure over a measly 12,000 miles per year. I always follow my gut because when things go wrong (or I simply kick myself for having missed out on a 12,000 mile payday each year), I only have myself to blame.

5. American Express Serve. If we lose out on the ability to unload Visa gift cards via Bluebird and money orders, it may be time to cut Bluebird out of the equation altogether and simply go for the Amex Serve card. You can load up to $1,000 per month  ($200 per day) with your mile-earning credit card each month. Not as good as loading $5,000 and coming away with a $150 profit via Shopping Portals – > Amex gift cards -> Vanilla Reloads/Visa Giftcards, but an option nonetheless.

I haven’t thought beyond Plan C, but I’m sure more opportunities will arise to keep this game going. How will you cope if Walmart does reject gift cards as payment for money orders?

For more on points, miles, and free travel, subscribe to my blog (see “Subscribe” above “Recent Posts”) or follow me @PointChaser,  Facebook, or Instagram

5% CashBack at Hyatt Hotels Through TopCashBack

5% Cashback at Hyatt Hotels

For the next four days, TopCashBack is offering 5% cash back at Hyatt hotels. Just a few days ago, the cash back amount was 3%, so this is a nice improvement. If you made a booking under the lower rate, see if you can cancel that rate and rebook through this promotion.

The promotion is valid for bookings at Hyatt Regency, Grand Hyatt, Andaz, Hyatt Place, and other brands. Even their all-inclusive Ziva and Zilara hotels qualify. Cashback is paid out after your stay is completed.

On top of the cash back bonus, Park Hyatt is offering complimentary breakfast for two and up to $150 spa or dining credit with offer code PAMPER. TopCashBack lists this promotion on the Hyatt TCB page, so you can book this rate and still earn 5% cash back when you click through TCB.

Any time you’re using a shopping portal to make a purchase or booking, be sure to take screenshots throughout the process in case the cash back/points don’t post. The overwhelming majority of folks using TopCashBack have reported the site to be unreliable when it comes to tracking purchases, but that has not been my experience. Regardless, I always play it safe and take screenshots so that I have proof in case any issues come up.

Disclosure: I will earn a $10 referral bonus if you sign up for TopCashBack and earn $10 in cash back using my link. Feel free to include your own referral links in the comment section.

For more on points, miles, and free travel, subscribe to my blog (see “Subscribe” above “Recent Posts”) or follow me @PointChaser,  Facebook, or Instagram

Extrabux No Longer Offering Cash Back on Visa Gift Card Purchases

Visa Gift Cards Cash Back Extrabux

Cashback portal Extrabux recently updated their policy on GiftCardMall purchases. Previously, Visa gift card purchases (minus the purchase fee) qualified for 1% cash back, which was much higher than the 0.5% offered by TopCashBack. However, this has changed and Visa gift cards purchased through GiftCardMall are no longer eligible for cash back. This is too bad, since that 1% really helped offset some of the fees and shipping costs involved in manufactured spending with Visa gift cards.

You can still get 0.5% through TopCashBack, or use my favorite method: Buy American Express gift cards through a shopping portal for 3% cash back, then use the  Amex gift cards to buy Visa gift cards at a grocery store, and unload those via Bluebird or money orders.

Disclosure: I will receive a small commission if you sign up with TopCashBack or Extrabux using the links in this post and make a purchase. You will receive a $5 credit from Extrabux for using my link.

For more on points, miles, and free travel, subscribe to my blog (see “Subscribe” above “Recent Posts”) or follow me @PointChaser,  Facebook, or Instagram