My $82,000 Spending Challenge: 3 Months Later

Photo credit: ADoseofShipBoy / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: ADoseofShipBoy / Foter / CC BY

I’m relieved to finally report that the $82,000 spending challenge I’ve been dragging my feet over has finally been completed. Last month, I wrapped up the combined $20,000 spending requirement on two Citi Executive AAdvantage cards; $20,000 across two Alaska Visa Signature cards; $3,000 on my dad’s Barclay Arrival Plus; and a self-imposed spending requirement of $9,000 on the SPG American Express Business card.

All that was left was $21,100 on my brother’s Barclay Arrival Plus card. Thanks to a variety of factors, I was able to meet the spend on this card and still stay under the radar. It was fairly simple with TopCashBack bringing back American Express gift cards. I was able to knock out an easy $4,000 in spend and unload the card via Amex for Target. I placed another $4,000 order recently, though it was ultimately cancelled. 

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Berkshire Hathaway Flying Colors Photo Contest: Win up to $500!

Win up to $500 through the Berkshire Hathaway Flying Colors Photo Contest!

Win up to $500 through the Berkshire Hathaway Flying Colors Photo Contest!

Did you know that Berkshire Hathaway has a travel blog? They do and I happen to be a contributor. They’re currently running a Flying Colors Photo Contest on Instagram and while I usually don’t write about photo contests, this one has a few features that make it worth mentioning: It’s open to amateurs and has not one but three generous prizes:

  • 1st Place: $500 Visa prepaid gift card
  • 2nd Place: $200 Visa prepaid gift card
  • 3rd Place: $100 Visa prepaid gift card

To enter the contest, simply post your best fall photos on Instagram to @bhtravelprotection or use hashtag #BHTPflyingcolors. You can post one photo per day through November 15, 2014. Three winners will be chosen based on the amount of likes they receive.

If you’re wondering what constitutes a good “fall photo,” take a look at your Instagram feed: People frolicking on a colorful mountain of leaves, pictures of a pumpkin patch, a basket full of apples, the New England landscape, anything with an orange hue. I’m sure you can come up with something much more original than this. Just make sure the photo is pretty enough to attract likes and is representative of the Fall season. 

A prize of $500 for an amateur photo contest is incredibly generous, if you ask me. Plus, you all know what to do with that Visa prepaid gift card (if it’s PIN-enabled): Load it onto your Amex Bluebird card and use it to pay your bills, or buy a money order and cash it out. Either way, this is a nice bit of extra spending cash, with the holiday shopping season coming up.

For anyone who’s interested, the contest rules are outlined here.

Best of luck and be sure to let me know if any of you end up winning!

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

24 Hours Only! 2% Cash Back on Amex Gift Cards from Big Crumbs

Big Crumbs 2 Amex Gift Cards

Last week, Big Crumbs announced via email that they would be increasing the cash back payout on American Express gift cards. At the time, Big Crumbs was offering 1.5% cash back. I predicted they would be increasing it to 2%, and I was right! It’s only half of the big 4% cash back bonuses of the past, but considering nearly every shopping portal recently removed Amex gift cards, we’re lucky to get any payouts at all. The higher 2% cash back payout is only valid for 24 hours.

The only other shopping portal currently offering cash back on American Express gift cards is TopCashBack, which is lagging behind at 1.5%. Hopefully they’ll top it – or at least match it. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on TopCashBack in the next few days. 

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Targeted Offer: 50,000 Miles from the US Airways World Mastercard

US Airways World Mastercard 50000 miles

For quite some time now, the sign-up bonus for the US Airways World Mastercard from Barclays has fluctuated from 35,000-45,000 miles after first spend. For those who want a slightly higher bonus and don’t mind meeting a little spend to get it, there is currently a version of the card with a 50,000 mile sign-up bonus after $1,000 spent within 3 months of account opening (thanks to reader Brenton for passing it along!). The $89 annual fee is not waived on the 50k offer, which is also the case with the publicly available offer (40,000 miles after first spend).

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Big Crumbs Increasing Cash Back on Amex Gift Cards

Big Crumbs Amex gift cards

By now, you’re all well aware that TopCashBack and Big Crumbs have resumed offering cash back American Express gift cards. Not satisfied with paying out the same 1.5% cash back payout as TCB, Big Crumbs has announced that they will be increasing the cash back amount on American Express gift cards. No word yet on how much higher it will be, but we’ll find out on Monday, October 20. 

According to the email that was sent out (I didn’t get one), this higher cash back promotion will only run for 24 hours. My guess is it will be 2% cash back, which is high enough to one-up TCB without causing a site crash. Hopefully this erupts into an all-out shopping portal war and TCB increases their payouts as well. 

This is good timing for those of you who picked up a 70,000 point Ink Plus card, as it provides the opportunity to knock out most of the $5,000 spending requirement in one purchase. American Express gift card purchases are limited to $5,000 every two weeks, though in my experience, orders that high tend to get cancelled. I limit mine to $4,000 at a time and they tend to get processed just fine.

If you’re wondering what to do with an American Express gift card (note: they aren’t PIN-enabled), there are a couple of options:

  1. Use them to load American Express for Target cards, then cash your AFT card out via ATM withdrawals.
  2. Use them to purchase PIN-enabled Visa gift cards, then unload the Visa gift cards via Bluebird.
  3. This last option may be a money loser, depending on how much cash back Big Crumbs is offering. You could use Google Wallet to unload the Amex gift card balance, sending it to a trusted friend or family member. Google Wallet does charge almost 3% in transaction fees, so the only time you should consider this is if the other two options aren’t available to you. I also wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re breaking even.

If you’re not currently a Big Crumbs member, here’s a shameless plug for my referral link. If you use it to sign up and make purchases, I get a commission from Big Crumbs. 

Are you looking forward to Big Crumbs’ increased payout on Amex gift cards? What do you think the higher cash back amount will be? 

HT: Tim Pressman for sending me a copy of the Big Crumbs email announcement.

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

Should You Redeem Points for Club Carlson Express Awards?

Park Plaza Bangkok Soi 18 Club Carlson

Source: Club Carlson

Club Carlson is one of my favorite hotel rewards program, as they make it incredibly easy to earn free nights on paid stays. Their redemption rates are fair when you consider the rate of earning points, their credit card is super generous in terms of recurring benefits, and they offer a Points + Cash option. Aside from it’s hotel award chart, Club Carlson has another award type that a few other hotel rewards programs offer: The ability to redeem points for on-site expenses. Club Carlson dubs this option “Express Awards.” Depending on how you value your Club Carlson points, these can be a good value. Below is a breakdown of Express Awards options and the number of points required for each:

  • Beverage (soda, coffee or tea) – 1,000
  • $4 Laundry Credit – 3,000
  • Choice of appetizer or dessert – 8,000
  • Pay TV Movie – 10,000
  • Room upgrade – 10,000
  • Bottle of wine (up to $30 value) – 15,000
  • Dinner for two (alcohol not included) – 35,000

The point requirements for Club Carlson Express Awards may vary by hotel and some may not offer them at all. You’ll need to reach out to the specific hotel you’re checking into for their redemption requirements.

Now the question is, are these decent redemption levels? Continue reading

Short on Travel Cash? Enter to Win $200 from!

Win $200 in travel credits from!

Win $200 in travel credits from!

My friend Kendra over at Points & Pixie dust has partnered up with to give away $200 in travel cash! The site wants feedback from users on how they can become the go-to hotel booking site. To enter, simply head over to the giveaway post and leave a comment with your feedback. The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM on Wednesday, October 15 and a winner will be chosen at random. Just make sure your comment is well thought out and adds value.

For those unfamiliar with HotelEngine, it’s a site that offers up to 10% back on hotel bookings. You can use the rewards towards future hotel bookings. It’s essentially like using a shopping portal, including non-chain hotel affiliated hotels. I did a few searches and found rates on par with what Kayak and hotel websites were offering. For example, rates at the Hilton San Francisco were showing up as $369 per night on 10/22-10/24, exactly the same rate offered on the Hilton website. Plus, HotelEnging was throwing in $36.90 cash back. Considering the highest shopping portal cash back amount for Hilton is currently 3.25% offered by, this is a very generous offer.

Whether you’ll earn hotel points on these bookings will vary by chain. I once booked a mistake rate a the Hilton San Francisco Financial District through a German travel site and not only earned points based on the regular rate, but I received elite night credit as well. YMMV.

If you’re interested in joining HotelEngine, they are offering a $5 sign-up bonus. If you use a referral link, the bonus is increased to $25. You can also refer your friends and when they make a booking, you’ll receive $25 in booking credits. According to the company’s FAQ page, rewards never expire, which is a nice plus.

So don’t forget to head over to Kendra’s blog for a chance to win $200! You never know, your next hotel booking could be free (or significantly discounted).

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

50% off Uber XL, Free Rides and the Compulsory Referral Link

UberXL Sacramento

One of the things I love about Uber are the constant promotions floating around. When they’re not offering free rides, they’re discounting them heavily. Right now, they’re offering both. 

In Sacramento, Uber is celebrating the debut of UberXL by offering 50% off fares for those who use the split fare feature to pay for UberXL rides. Use promo code SACSPLIT through Sunday, October 12 to get the discount. If you’re wondering how fare splitting works, this post on Uber’s blog does a good job of explaining it. 

Aside from this promotion, there are currently several other ways to earn points and save cash with Uber, which I’ve outlined below:

$10 Statement Credit from American Express Sync 

If you have an American Express card, you can get a $10 Uber credit via American Express sync promotions. Simply sync your eligible American Express card, tweet #AmexUber and then link your American Express card to your Uber account. You have until December 31, 2014 to charge at least a $10 Uber ride to the card in order to get the $10 statement credit, which should post within 90 days after the promotion ends. 

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2,500 Bonus Miles with the Barclay US Airways Mastercard

US Airways 2500 Bonus Miles Promotion

US Airways 2500 Bonus Miles Promotion

There may finally be a reason to dust off the US Airways Premier World Mastercard: Through December 31, 2014 Barclays is offering cardholders 2 bonus miles per $1 spent on the following categories: 

  • Gas
  • Dining
  • Toy, game, and department stores

Bonuses are capped at 2,500 miles, so only the first $1,250 in spend is eligible for the 2 point payout. Cardholders must register by October 20, 2014 either via an email activation link (check your inbox to see if you got one) or by using the special registration code sent via mail. The promotion started yesterday, which is also when the flyer came in the mail. If you received neither of these, simply call Barclays at 866-419-0881 to get registered for the promotion. Bonus points will post 6-8 weeks after the promotion ends.

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1,000 Point Bonus for using the Hyatt Mobile App: Worth it?

Hyatt Mobile App Booking Bonus

Hyatt Mobile App Booking Bonus

Through December 31, 2014 Hyatt is offering 1,000 bonus points for bookings made through their new mobile app. Stacking this bonus with the current Hyatt Gold Passport promotion (which effectively earns 2,500 points per night) along with the Hyatt Diamond Challenge and the corresponding elite bonuses can add up to quite a point haul – well over 166,000 if you max out the quarterly promotion bonus and complete the Diamond Challenge. Here is how it breaks down on 20 single night stays (the maximum eligible for this quarter’s Gold Passport promotion):

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