Best IHG Rewards Club Redemptions: Category 7

Following IHG’s announcement of a positive award program change, I held off on publishing the rest of this series in case anything changed. Thankfully, I did not have to make any changes (or maybe that’s a bad thing?).

The hotels in IHG Rewards Club’s Category 7 are definitely a notch above the rest. At 40,000 points per night, you start to see award winning properties in Europe and great value redemptions in the Pacific. US properties in this category are a big improvement over the previous one, with plenty of centrally located hotels in major cities. Chances are, if you’re headed to a major city with just 40,000 points to spare, you’ll find something in categories I’ve published so far. Here are the hotel best redemptions for IHG’s Category 7:

North America

West

Hotel Indigo San Diego Gas Lamp (San Diego, CA)

Hotel Indigo San Diego Gaslamp

Hotel Indigo San Diego Gaslamp
Source: Hotel website

Distinctions:

  • Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2013
  • Tripadvisor GreenLeaders Platinum Level

Accommodations: The Hotel Indigo San Diego Gas Lamp rightfully calls itself “more than just another beige business hotel.” Standard rooms are decorated in vibrant colors, with beautiful hardwood floors and a glass enclosed spa shower in the bathroom. Guests can catch up on their favorite shows on the 37 inch flat screen tv. There is also an iHome clock ratio you can hook your iPhone up to and play your music on. The hotel also prides itself on being both one of the most pet-friendly hotels in the city and the only one with LEED Certification.

Location: The Hotel Indigo San Diego Gas Lamp has a great location in the Gas Lamp Quarter, across from PETCO Park, and a mile from the USS Midway, Seaport Village, and Horton Plaza. If you’re looking forward to a day of family fun, you are just 7 miles from the beach, San Diego Zoo, and Sea World. Legoland California is a bit further out at 34 miles.

Honorable Mention: N/A

South

Intercontinental Buckhead Atlanta (Atlanta, GA)

Intercontinental Buckhead Atlanta

Intercontinental Buckhead Atlanta
Source: Hotel website

Distinctions:

  • Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2013
  • Tripadvisor GreenLeaders Gold Level
  • Tripadvisor #8 Hotel in Atlanta

Accommodations: Standard rooms at the Intercontinental Buckhead are spacious at 488 sqft and offer views of Peachtree road. The marble bathroom features a separate soaking tub and shower, while the room comes with a feather bed, 47 inch LCD tv, iHome radio, and in-room coffemaker. Guests redeeming an award can choose between a Deluxe room with one King or two Double beds.

Location: The hotel is located in the city’s upsclae Buckhead neighborhood, close to great restaurants and shopping. Some of the more touristy activities (visiting the Coca Cola factory, Georgia Aquarium, and CNN Studio Tour) will require a car or public transportation, as they are within 9 miles of the hotel.

Honorable Mention: N/A

Canada

Intercontinental Toronto Centre (Toronto, Canada)

Intercontinental Toronto Centre

Intercontinental Toronto Centre
Source: Hotel website

Distinctions: Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2013

Accommodations: A standard award gets you into a Superior room with either a King or two Double beds, located on Floors 3-7. Guests get access to an in-room Keurig coffee maker and iHome docking station.

Location: True to its name, the Intercontinental Toronto Centre is within walking distance of Old Town Toronto, perfect for sightseeing, shopping, and dining. Catch a game at the nearby Air Canada Center, which hosts NHL, NBA, and AFL games depending on the season.

Honorable Mention: Intercontinental Toronto Yorkville

South America

Intercontinental Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo, Brazil)

Intercontinental Sao Paulo Club Lounge

Intercontinental Sao Paulo Club Lounge
Source: Hotel website

Distinctions:

  • Tripadvisor Traveler’s Choice 2014: #9 Top 25 Luxury Hotels in Brazil
  • Tripadvisor Traveler’s Choice 2014: #9 Top 25 Hotels in Brazil

Accommodations: For 40,000 points per night, guests get a 312 sqft Deluxe room with a King or two Twin beds. These rooms offer plenty of seating, with a coffee table and two chairs to the side.

Location: Did you know Sao Paulo is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan? The city’s Japanese neighborhood is close by and the hotels’ concierge recommends a visit to the area’s open air markets. The hotel is also within walking distance of the Sao Paulo Art Museum, Trianon Park, and some great restaurants and pubs.

Honorable Mention: N/A

Europe

Western Europe

Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Intercontinental Amster Amsterdam

Intercontinental Amster Amsterdam
Source: Hotel website

Distinctions:

  • Tripadvisor Traveler’s Choice 2014: #17 Top 25 Hotels in The Netherlands
  • Tripadvisor Traveler’s Choice 2014: #7 Top 10 Luxury Hotels in The Netherlands
  • Tripadvisor Traveler’s Choice 2014: #24 Top 25 Hotels for Romance in the Netherlands
  • Tripadvisor #26 hotel in Amsterdam

Accommodations: Guests booking an award at the Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam get an Executive room ranging from 323-377 sqft. The rooms are described as being “laid out in a classic french style” with large windows offering magnificent views of the river or square. The large marble bathrooms feature a cascade shower and separate bath. With regular rates of $700 per night, this is a great place to redeem your points.

Location: The hotel building is over 140 years old, having been built in 1867. Guests can walk to the Van Goh Museum and Royal Carre Theatre. It’s also just two miles from the city’s Centraal Station, the Ann Frank House, and other notable attractions. If you’re not up to walking, there is a metro station just a block from the hotel.

Honorable Mention: 

Crowne Plaza Amsterdam City Centre

  • Tripadvisor Traveler’s Choice 2014: #16 Top 25 Hotels in The Netherlands
  • Tripadvisor Traveler’s Choice 2014: #16 Top 25 Hotels for Romance in the Netherlands
  • Tripadvisor #19 hotel in Amsterdam

Mediterranean

Intercontinental Madrid (Madrid, Spain)

Intercontinental Madrid

Intercontinental Madrid
Source: Hotel website

Distinctions: Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence

Accommodations: A standard award gets you into a Deluxe Double Room with plush furnishing, seating area, and work desk. Guests also get access to a coffee and tea maker.

Location: The hotel is located in an upscale area close to the Serrano Shopping district. If you’re looking to explore the city’s sights, you won’t have to go far. Retiro Park, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Atoche station, Plaza Mayor are all within 2 miles of the hotel.

Honorable Mention: N/A

Asia 

Intercontinental Onethousand Lake Island Resort (Hangzhou, China)

Intercontinental Onethousand Lake Island Resort

Intercontinental Onethousand Lake Island Resort
Source: Hotel website

Distinctions:

  • Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2013
  • Tripadvisor #2 Hotel in Chun’an County

Accommodations: At 40,000 points per night, guests can book a Superior room with either a King or two Single beds, ranging in size between 473 – 527 sqft. These rooms have garden views and guests have access to a pillow menu. Nothing says luxury like being able to pick your own pillow…

Location: The Intercontinental Onethousand Lake Island Resort is the only hotel in the Xianshan Peninsula, perfect if you’re looking for a secluded getaway where tourists are scarce. The hotel is a perfect base for nature enthusiasts wishing to explore the karst mountains and caves.

Honorable Mention: Crowne Plaza Singapore Changi Airport

Pacific

City 

Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto (Melbourne, Australia)

Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto

Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto
Source: Hotel website

Distinctions:

  • Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2013
  • Tripadvisor #8 Hotel in Melbourne

Accommodations: A standard award gets you into a beautifully decorated 345 sqft King Deluxe room with floor-to-ceiling windows, settee, and desk area. The room comes equipped with Bose entertainment system and guests get complimentary tea/coffee as well as access to a pillow menu.

Location: The Rialto is within walking distance of Federation Square, where you’ll find a variety of galleries, museums, and shops to keep your entertained. The Royal Botanic Gardens are just two miles away from the hotel.

Honorable Mention: N/A

Beach

Intercontinental Resort & Spa Moorea (Papetoai, French Polynesia)

Intercontinental Resort & Spa Moorea

Intercontinental Resort & Spa Moorea
Source: Flickr

Distinctions: Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2013

Accommodations: You may not be getting an overwater villa, but 40,000 points per night is a pretty good deal considering Hilton requires twice the number of points for redemptions in the same area. Guests booking a standard award get a 400 qft Superior room with garden views. Rooms accommodate up to two adults and one child.

Location: The hotel is located in Moorea, one of the more expense islands in French Polynesia. Hotels on the island can go for $700 per night in June, with the Intercontinental being priced more reasonably at around $250. Still, redeeming 40,000 points can be a more preferably option depending on the nightly rate and especially for those wishing to save their cash for meals and activities.

Honorable Mention: Intercontinental Resort Tahiti

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Earn Miles for Using the Bing Search Engine

Earn miles for using Bing Search

Back in the day (as in like a year and a half ago) I used to make a killing by using the Hawaiian Airlines toolbar for my web searaches.. That cash cow died when Hawaiian capped earnings at 1,000 miles. Now Bing has jumped in on the action, offering users a chance to earn points and miles for using the Bing search engine.

Members earn 20 credits just for signing up in addition to 1 credit for every 2 searches, up to 15 credits per day. 400 credits can be redeemed for 100 points/miles from one of the following programs:

  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • US airways Dividend Miles
  • Virgin America Elevate

Points/Miles are paid out in the form of a voucher that will expire within 6 months, but I can’t imagine any of you will hold off on depositing them into your rewards accounts right away.

If you were to earn the maximum 15 credits per day, you’d earn 100 points/miles each month, which isn’t amazing but if you’re using the Bing search engine any way, it’s a nice way to top off your account and keep miles form expiring.

There’s also an option to redeem points for FuelCircle Rewards, which gets you gas discounts at Exxon, Chevron, Sunoco, or BP stations. To redeem for this reward, you’ll need 525 credits for 510 FuelCircle points. FuelCircle requires 2,550 points for $25 in free gas. In a year, you could redeem 10 of these FuelCircle Rewards, bringing your total to $50 in gas rewards. Not amazing, but again, if you’re using Bing anyway you might as well get rewarded for it.

You can also earn miles by referring up to 100 friends. You’ll earn 500 credits for each friend who joins and reaches Silver status. These 500 credits are enough to redeem 100 frequent flyer miles/points and almost enough towards $5 in gas rewards. Earning Silver status requires the following:

  • Complete the Welcome to Rewards tour
  • Complete the Welcome to Bing tour
  • Pick a reward and set it as a goal
  • Earn 200 lifetime credits

Here is my Bing Rewards referral link, but feel free to include your own in the comment section.

Note, this isn’t going to be the next mileage cash cow, but something to be aware of it you’re using Bing and looking to get rewarded for giving them your business.

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

Barclay RewardsBoost and TopCashBack Increase Amex Gift Card Payouts

Barclay RewardBooster 4 miles Amex Giftcards

Last week I covered the highest cash back portal payouts on American Express Gift Cards at the time. A day after running the post, a reader alerted me that the Barclay RewardsBoost payout had decreased to 2 miles per $1. I’m happy to report it’s back up at 4 miles. Factoring in the 2 miles per $1 earned from the Barclay Arrival Card, that’s 6 miles per $1. If you were to order the maximum $5,000 in American Express gift cards, you would earn $300 in travel credits. Factoring in a cost of $48.45 ($39.50 card fees + $8.95 shipping) along with the added $39.50 to cash out via Visa/OneVanilla cards by way of Bluebird, you’re spending a total of $87.95 to earn $300 in travel credits. You could convert those credits to $150 in cash back statement credits instead.

If this offer becomes available often enough to allow you to place two such orders each month, you’d be looking at around $7,800 in travel credits each year.

TopCashBack

Rick, founder of FrugalTravelGuy, notified me yesterday that TopCashBack has increased cash back payouts on Amex gift cards to 3%. This is good news for several reasons. First, if you’re not an Arrival cardholder and missing out on 6% travel rewards/3% cash back from that card, this is a good secondary portal to use.

The one limitation with TCB is that cash back is not awarded on gift cards ordered in increments larger than $500. Amex gift cards can be ordered in increments of up to $3,000 and come with a $3.95 fee – so this really increases the cost of manufactured spending and drives down profit margins. Buying the maximum $5,000 in $500 increments would incur $48.45 in costs ($39.50 card fees + $8.95 shipping).  If you were to cash these out by purchasing Visa/One Vanilla gift cards at a drug store, then loading those onto Bluebird, you’d wrack up another $39.50 in fees. After all the fees involved ($87.95), that $150 cash back generated through this promotion would leave you with a $62.05 profit along with 5,000 miles. This is obviously nothing to scoff at, but going via Barclay’s RewardsBoost saves you more money.

Other Portals

The Alaska Airlines and Delta shopping portals are offering 3 miles per $1, which is nice, but I’d rather get some form of cash to offset the fees I’m paying to earn the miles.

Last time TopCashBack increased their cash back offer to 3%, Big Crumbs topped it with 3.5%. This hasn’t happened yet, but keep an eye out for it. I checked Cashbackholic today and the portal is showing TopCashBack at 2%, which is obviously incorrect. On the other hand, Cashback Monitor is reporting TopCashBack at 3% but leaving out Barclay RewardsBoost completely. So if you’re going to keep an eye out for an increased offer from Big Crumbs or any other portal, check all sources.

Disclosure: I will receive a commission if you sign up for the Barclay Arrival card using the links in this post. TopCashBack pays out a small commission when you use my link to register and earn $10 in rewards.

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#TRLT at 10 AM (PT): Ceremonial Customs on The Road Less Traveled

Galatasaray Square Istiklal Avenue Istanbul

Galatasaray Square Istiklal Avenue Istanbul

Join me for this this week’s #TRLT chat, where we’ll be discussing ceremonial customs on The Road Less Traveled. The chat starts at 10 AM (PT)/2 PM (ET). We’ll be covering the following questions:

Q1. What are your Favorite ceremonial customs?

Q2. What is the most interesting custom you have seen on The Road Less Traveled?

Q3. Name a custom on The Road Less Travelled that you would like to see adopted in your home country.

Q4. Have you ever participated in a custom on The Road Less Travelled?

Q5. What was the most extreme custom you ever saw or participated in on #TRLT?

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

My Experience Using Gift Cards to Pay Bills with Evolve Money

Evolve Money

Update: Thanks to reader Paul for the heads up. Evolve has notified users via Twitter that the issue with master card gift cards has been resolved.

Yesterday I wrote about getting snubbed at Walmart and Target while trying to use gift cards to reload a prepaid card and buy a money order. I mentioned using Evolve Money to unload some of my Visa gift cards and thought I’d elaborate on how that works.

Evolve is a free bill pay service that allows users to pay participating merchants with a debit card or a “cash” option. When you choose cash, you’re given the option to pay with Evolve Pay Bucks or ReloadIT cards.

What makes this service appealing is the fact that you can use your Visa gift cards to pay your bill. If you think this is shady behavior that is bound to get shut down – an Evolve rep on Flyertalk has made the following statement on the forum: “We are committed to providing our customers the ability to pay their bills with gift cards.”

Before giving it a try myself, I’d read about how their bill pay network was limited. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could pay pretty much all of my bills with the service: My student loans (Sallie Mae), PG&E, cellphone and internet (AT&T, Comcast). What’s more, most payments are processed within 2 days and some are processed the same day for an extra charge of $1.50. I made a payment to Sallie Mae on Friday and received confirmation on Saturday morning that the payment had been processed. That’s faster than going through Bluebird or even paying through Sallie Mae’s site directly, and I didn’t even have to pick the expedited payment option.

If you’re wondering how this works, it’s simple:

1. Sign up by providing some basic information about yourself: Email address, mobile phone number, and zip code.

2. Once you’re signed in, simply click on “add new bill” on your dashboard and search for your service provider.

Evolve Money Bill Pay Search

3. When you click on your service provider, you’ll be asked to enter more detailed information than you provided at registration. This includes your name, account number and last 4 digits of your SSN.

Evolve Money Bill Pay

In the case of Sallie Mae, you’ll be offered a variety of addresses to send your payment to. Make sure you pick the right one or your payment may not be processed. You can find the correct billing address by logging into your account and pulling up one of your billing statements.

4. Next, you provide your gift card payment information. You don’t need to register your gift card prior to using it, so simply provide your mailing address under “billing address” and you’re all set.

Evolve Debit Card

Potential Issues

1. You can’t use American Express gift cards with Evolve. These are processed as credit transactions and Evolve currently only allows debit, Evolve Pay Bucks, and ReloadIT cards as payment.

2. When a bill is overpaid, the excess amount is applied as a credit to your Evolve account and you’ll have to use it to pay another bill. Any plans to overpay a bill and ask your provider to send a refund check are not going to work.

3. There seems to be an issue primarily with using Mastercard gift cards issued by US Bank. I used Visa gift cards obtained through GiftCardMall and at least one payment has been processed without issues.

4. According to this Flyertalk page, if the payment fails, you may end up with a pre-authorized charge on your card that could take up to 10 days to fall off.

5. You may need to wait at least 5 minutes to pay the same bill twice. This is important to note if you plan on splitting large payments (i.e. mortgage) across different gift cards.

Despite some of the reported issues, I would prefer using this for legitimate bill pay. Of course, I still have to go to Walmart to unload some of those Visa gift cards via Bluebird. Evolve just makes it easy for me to pay my bills in one place while allowing me to stay in the manufactured spending game.

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to use promo code Save5april to save $5 on your next bill payment. The code expires today at 11:59 PM (PT).

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Walmart and Target Crack Down on Manufactured Spending?

Walmart Money Order

Where to find American Express for Target Card

Since the demise of Vanilla Reloads, I’ve written about several manufactured spending alternatives. When a reader reported that Walmart was no longer accepting gift cards for money orders, I wrote up Plan C in my manufactured spending strategy. It looks like I’ll need to draw up even more plans, because this weekend I experienced a rude awakening. If this keeps up, I’m going to run out of letters to name my plans after.

Plan B was to use American Express Gift Cards purchased through shopping portals to buy Visa gift cards at grocery stores, then unload those via money orders at Walmart. A reader told me recently that she had been to several Bay Area Walmart locations and got rejected when she tried to buy a money order with a Visa gift card. I hadn’t had this issue, so I figured it was just a problem at specific locations. I headed to my local Walmart and first tried to load my gift cards onto Bluebird at the kiosk. The ever-present “out of order” sign was gone, so I assumed it was safe to use. Nope, the machine was still out of order.

So I headed to the money center to buy money orders. A cashier I’m friendly with rang me up. I asked her to split the payment method, which she said was fine. Then she suddenly asked me to show her the cards I was paying with. I did so and she said I could’t pay with gift cards – “new store policy.” I pulled out my trusty Alaska Airlines debit card, paid for the money order in full, and headed out.

Now I have about $2,500 of Amex Gift Cards to unload, so I head to Target. My back-up plan was to use American Express Gift Cards purchased through shopping portals to load my American Express for Target card. I go to the register, where a seemingly clueless cashier hesitates when I tell him I want to reload my card. I offer to walk him through the process, and he smiles and sighs in relief. When it comes time to pay, I swipe my $3,000 Amex gift card. I start reading him the last 4 digits of the card and he asks to see it. Suddenly, the same guy that didn’t know how to load an American Express prepaid card 10 seconds ago is reciting the latest store policy: “You can’t pay with a gift card.” I told him I was aware that you can’t pay with a Target gift card (every cashier makes it a point to say that before ringing me up), but he calls his colleague over. She confirms that the new store policy is that you have to pay with a credit card and Amex gift cards aren’t accepted. I paid with my Arrival card and left.

This is pretty awful because if I can’t unload Amex gift cards indirectly via Walmart money orders or directly via my Amex for Target card, my manufactured spending costs are going to skyrocket. No more $200-300 profits per $5,000 gift card.

In order to cope with this tragedy, I’m finally going to give in and try out the following methods I’ve been avoiding in an effort to keep things manageable:

1. Amazon Payments. American Express gift cards are just too lucrative to forego, so I’m going to start using Amazon Payments to unload the American Express gift card balance. I won’t earn as many miles as before, since Amazon Payments is limited to $1,000 per month.

2. Bluebird. I can load my $3,000 or so in Visa gift cards onto Bluebird without issues. I’m avoiding the register because of rumors that they’re also enforcing the “no gift card” rule. This method will involve a lot of hits and misses, as Bluebird kiosks are notorious for being out of order half the time.

3. Evolve Money. In addition to Bluebird, I unloaded one $500 Visa gift card by paying bills using Evolve Money. The service is free to use and through April 21, you can get $5 off a bill payment when you use promo code SAVE5Apri. On Friday I sent two months worth of Sallie Mae payments and received confirmation from them on Saturday that the payments had posted. That’s lightning fast. I think Evolve estimated the payment would go through on 4/20.

I also used it to pay off the small balance on a Macy’s card. The PG&E bill just came in and I’m going to bite the bullet and pay my cell phone and cable bill through Evolve, foregoing 5x through my Ink card.

This is just a convenient way to unload some gift cards until the Bluebird kiosk is back in business, but if the payout for GiftCardMall (where I buy Visa gift cards) increases from 0.5%, this can be a lucrative opportunity to generate points, cash, and pay my bills in an efficient way. If it saves me from having to go through an annoying phone system or logging in and out of different accounts to pay bills, I’m good with that.

Have you had the same experience at Walmart and Target? Please comment below.

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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!

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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.

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

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?

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

Current Cash Back Portal Payouts on American Express Gift Cards

Cash back on American Express Gift Card

Update 4/21: Barclay RewardBoost has increased the Amex Gift Card payout back up to 4 miles per $1, while TopCashBack is up to 3%.

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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