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How I’m Taking A Cruise Every Year For Free

Free Disney Cruise Strategy

Gosh, this looks stress free

Cruises are the ultimate in stress-free vacationing. Change my mind.

All I have to do is get myself to port via airline with relaxing lounges on layovers and free uber rides from the terminal. Then I check-in and locate my room aboard a floating all(ish) inclusive resort, unpack, and literally not worry about a single thing until it’s over.

My food is always in the same known locations unless I feel frisky and want to change it up. I don’t have to make cuisine decisions in a back and forth “well what do YOU want to eat?” downward spiraling argument. I don’t have to worry about transportation anywhere since the resort moves with me. Entertainment is there if I want it and bars are there if I don’t. It cannot get better from this burned-out logistician’s viewpoint.

No, I don’t want to explore new cities and take social media pictures by tourist traps and rely on public transportation and constantly have an eye out for security. I want to walk into a little slice of floating paradise, float my happy behind on over to another little slice of paradise, not worry about logistics, rinse and repeat. I’m relaxed just thinking about it.

Disney Cruises

I, for one, welcome our new mouse eared overlords

Of course, there are varying degrees of cruising experience. We can’t be blowing precious leave time on Carnival, the Best Western’s of the cruising industry. But top-tiered cruising experiences are admittedly not cheap and the king of not cheap cruising slaps two round mouse ears on everything they do.

Of course, for your pretty penny, you get a grand experience in attention to detail and a surprising amount of adult-only space for a travel company fashioned around kid’s movies. I was not a fan when my then-fiancee (now wife of five years) wanted to get married on a Disney cruise — but I have since been convinced of the merit in cruising with the mouse.

Quality wise, Disney far surpasses any other cruise line I have sailed with. The food is better, the rooms are larger and nicer, the employees are friendlier, Castaway Cay is superior to any other private island, the entertainment and activities are always a notch above, and the clientelle is frankly just more upscale (I don’t want no scrubs). Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t just a floating cartoon themed playground — everything is upper crust, and there are designated areas for kids with (almost) around-the-clock childcare, and plenty of adult-only locations as well. It’s the perfect cruise for families, singles, and DINKs alike, and I have never once questioned whether I was getting my money’s worth.

And thus, my enduring yearly stress-free vacation will be cruising the Disney seas in an everlasting pursuit of conch coolers at Castaway Cay. Why they don’t serve those on the ship, I will be forever bitter about. I also used to be bitter about having to bite the cost bullet. Our first Disney cruise (wedding) and subsequent cruise (honeymoon) cost a moderate $1723.70 and $1597.34 respectively, for two of us at five nights each in a veranda stateroom. That same 5 night, 2 person veranda room is an extravagant $3833 this year. How is that a sustainable yearly vacation?

I’ll Take The Free Option, Please

Travel credits are best credits

Of course, the answer is credit cards. No, I do not mean to say we charge it and drown in interest-bearing debt for years. I mean to say that this sweet game we call churning will pay for my cruise tickets, year after year, so long as I maintain active duty service.

The spouse and I have the following annual fee waived credit cards: Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) x4, US Bank Altitude Reserve (AR) x2, and the Citi Prestige (CP) x2. With the $300/year travel credit per CSR, $325/year travel credit per AR, and $250 travel credit per CP, holding these cards nets us a cool $2350 per year, every year. That’s free travel dollars that will auto reimburse my Disney cruise charges. Granted, it won’t cover another veranda 5-night itinerary, but we can slum it on the inside of the ship for $2440 on a 7-night voyage.

In the future, I plan to snag us each a Korean SkyPass Select card, netting another $200 credit per card, bringing the yearly Disney cruise fund to a respectable $2750. How do you like them apples with mouse ears carved into them?

Starting From Scratch

Would ya just look at it? She’s a real beaut.

If this is your first toe-dip into the credit card game and perpetual free Disney cruising (or perpetual free anything) has piqued your interest, here’s how to get to this point. CAUTION: while this is the fastest avenue to stacking travel credits, it is NOT the best path to building the optimal card portfolio. See our guide here for that path.

First, you’ll want to get the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited card. It doesn’t matter in which order, just grab them both and meet whatever lousy sign up bonuses they have at the time. Then do the same for your spouse. Also at this time, open a joint checking account with US Bank. They often do new account bonuses so you might even be able to snag $300 for your efforts.

31 days after your first Chase card get the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Meet the sign-up bonus (probably 50k UR points after $4k spend in 3 months). Rinse and repeat for your spouse. You should now be somewhere around 6 months in and holding 6 credit cards.

Then, apply for a US Bank Altitude Reserve card. Meet the sign-up bonus (likely 50k Flexpoints for $4500 spend in 3 months). Rinse and repeat for your spouse. You should now be somewhere around 12 months in and holding 8 credit cards.

This sunset is a subtle wink that the post is ending

Finally, go ahead and apply for a Citi Prestige. Meet the sign-up bonus (likely 50k ThankYou points for $4000 spend in 3 months). Rinse and repeat for your spouse. You should now be somewhere around 18 months in and holding 10 credit cards.

Make a call to Chase, upgrade your Freedoms and Freedom Unlimiteds to Sapphire Reserves and voila, you now have 6 Sapphire Reserves, 2 Altitude Reserves, and 2 Prestiges. That’s a grand total of $2950 travel credits and about 325,000 various points worth a respectable $3250 cashback at their lowest redemption value. If you want to be a hero and get Korean Skypass Selects, add another $400 to that travel credit number. 18 months is a very conservative timeline and this can likely be done much sooner if you can meet the minimum spends faster. Just remember to wait 366 days to upgrade Chase cards.

Let me know when you finish and I’ll tweet the deets for our yearly TDWise Disney Cruise meetup!

 

Rumors For Days with Amex and Capital One

Current Rumors in the Credit Card Game

This seems to be the season of rumors right now and since I haven’t done much to report on aside from a failed gift card liquidation at Hilton’s Buffalo Thunder Resort, I figured we can all hope and dream for a week.

Amex Green Card Refresh

Numbers on the back would be the best of all the upgrades

There’s solid evidence over here at Doc of Credit that the bland and boring Amex Green Card, a card that you pay for the privilege of earning Amex Membership Rewards (MR) points, is undergoing a more attractive card refresh.

The main added benefits being 4x points on gas and 3x points on streaming. I would LOVE to see such benefits as I always use gas and we cut cable in favor of streaming. That would firmly place the Green Card as my go-to for gas and streaming since MR points are liquidatable at 1.25 cents per point with the Schwab Platinum card. Yes, cashback is a bad redemption rate, but I have more points than I can spend with the leave I have available and 1.25 is above industry standard for cashback.

The more rumored but much more beneficial add on is an Amazon Prime membership. Since we pay $119 for that membership annually as it is, an annual fee waived Green Card that gave it to us for free would be instant $119/year savings. Fingers crossed people.

The rumored release date was early 2019, then July, now Sep. That’s the problem with rumors I guess.

Amex Airport Restaurant Program

Another fantastic but more unfounded rumor on the Amex front is the future roll-out of an Amex restaurant program to replace the revocation of the restaurant credit on their Priority Pass memberships. DoC makes a lot of assumptions on his page for this but it would make sense for Amex to ditch the PP memberships and focus on their own lounge program. As it is, they best the other banks with their own line of Centurion lounges and Escape Lounge access in addition to their PP memberships. Perhaps an Amex specific lounge program would be a good way to wrap everything together.

Amex Airline Credit Changes

But of course, the most rumored of all the rumors is the one I want the most. I previously touched on this rumor of Amex changing their airline incidental credit to a blanket travel credit with less complicated steps and more ways to redeem in a past weekly update. I will keep repeating it so that more people repeat it and we gain a massive grassroots following to put the pressure on and get it done. Turns out I’m not the only one.

Over here at Little Miss Traveler’s (LMT) competing blog is a much more thought out article about why Amex is in a position to make this change happen. It stems from the recent change to airline gift card reimbursements, a sort of devaluation of benefits (more on this below), and how every other bank has blanket travel reimbursements. The argument is if Amex wants to stay relevant they need to match the value and effortlessness of the travel credits with their competitors. I, of course, agree and would love to see such a change. LMT also suggests that Amex is loosing out on transaction fees if the credit is redeemed all at once, but at the under $5 transaction fees they charge in conjunction with percentage fees I can’t see it making more than a $10 difference per card per year. Drop in the bucket.

Amex Gift Card Debacle

I want to take this moment to explain the whole Amex airline gift card debacle. Everyone seems to be confused about it, even LMT puts the blame on Amex, and this really isn’t the case. Here’s the deal: Amex NEVER said they would reimburse gift cards, in fact, they explicitly stated in T&Cs that they WOULD NOT reimburse gift cards. The airlines just happened to code their gift card purchases the same way as their incidentals that Amex did reimburse, so the automated system didn’t catch them and reimbursements went through. One day, the AIRLINES changed the way they coded their gift card purchases and the automated system Amex has now sees those purchases as gift cards. We enjoyed a loophole for a while, it closed, now we just need to wait for another. Now, if you want to speculate that Amex put pressure on the airline to recode their gift card purchases, that’s getting super deep into rumor territory and I haven’t seen anything to suggest it aside from the timing that all the airlines recoded.

Capital One Premium Card

Finally, Capital One seems to be planning to get in on the premium card market and is set to launch its own high annual fee card with the only attractive feature being a $300 annual travel credit. If all the details are correct then it will be a flop when put up against the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Amex Plat, and Citi Prestige. If Capital One waives annual fees for the military crowd, it’s an excellent additional $300/per in our pockets. Fingers, once again crossed.

The Apple Credit Card

Apple Card Review for Military

Apple tracking is on point.

Being the glutton for credit card gimmicks that I am, I went ahead and got the brand new Apple Credit Card for no other reason than to be an early adopter and add a slick slab of titanium to my black book. This is the tale of my adventure into Apple’s attempt to flip the credit card world on its head.

The Apple credit card concept is an attempt to remove the physical card aspect altogether — and turn the iPhone into your credit granting device under the guise of better security, more simplicity, and a consumer-focused vision. At first glance, it seems like they’ve done exactly that. As with all Apple products, they are rolling out tech ahead of its time and forcing the user and supporting technology sectors to adapt to their model (ie. removing the headphone jack on iPhones). However, Apple couldn’t just not give you a physical card and expect you to be a consumer in a world not quite adapted to Apple Pay at every point of sale system, so they compromised and did a physical card in a way only Apple could. More on that later.

Card Security

Not the best outer packaging but its a no annual fee card so, bygones.

Since your iPhone is now your credit card, it securely keeps your card number in a chip, similar to how it keeps your biometric data on a chip, supposedly separate from the rest of the iPhone programming with microchip and coding magic. Their website on the Apple card even calls it “The Secure Element.” So secure. The number isn’t even on the physical card they give you, so only Skynet will be able to see it. This makes sense since your face or fingerprint is required to authorize transactions, just like Apple Pay. Your transaction history is even generated in the wallet app, meaning Apple isn’t privy to your spending habits. Goldman Sachs is, but they promise not to use it for advertising and the like. They also took and paid back $10B in the 2008 financial debacle so, take that how you will.

As for Goldman Sachs, Apple claims they went with them as the card backer since they’ve never had a consumer card before and they were open to doing things differently. Maybe, but that also means they have no idea what they are doing with credit cards and I guess we’ll see how this all plays out. I have faith in Apple, but I’m skeptical of Goldman Sachs (also bitter for them making their Goldman Sachs branded Amex Platinum Card impossible to obtain).

Inner packaging, however, is quintessential Apple

Simplicity

As for simplicity, yeah, I think the Apple Credit Card wins there too. The wallet app will track all the purchases you make, when, and even where you make them. It seems to have a learning model of transaction data that puts your spending into easy to understand terms and not just the terminal name the business you used registered with the card network. And because it lives on your iPhone, every time it’s used you get a notification. That means that when Skynet uses your card number that no one else can see, you can immediately report that nonsense and Apple or Goldman or whoever makes it go away.

Supposedly the digital image of the card in your wallet app even changes color based on the categories of spending you most frequently use — and of course provides all the charts you’d ever want that show you how much you need to stop spending on takeout.

Oh, and your payment due date is the last day of the month. What a novel concept that no other bank in history has ever contemplated implementation of. So easy to remember.

No fuss, not even a cardmember agreement, just sleek

Consumer-Focusedness

Consumer-focused? Yup, for sure wins there too. The app lets you text issues. Any issues. Text. I DON’T HAVE TO CALL PEOPLE. Gosh, what a concept. No hold music, no foreign accents I can’t understand, no elevation to supervisors because I swear I know more about the credit product than the person I’m talking to. None of that. Text. Gosh, why hasn’t this happened sooner?

Also, no fees. Period. Not a single fee. I don’t even have to elaborate this. If you have a fee question the answer is no fees. Find me another no annual fee card without foreign transaction fees. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Nevermind, I won’t.

Interest! That’s how the card companies get you. Apple sends you payment reminders, has interest calculating graphs, and claims the lowest interest rates in the industry. Seems legit, and they actually do a fair amount to motivate you to avoid paying interest. Of course, you don’t need any help because the number one rule of credit card churning is never paying interest, right?

It doesn’t get more Apple or the opposite of busy than this

Apple Credit Card Rewards

Now, let’s talk Apple Credit Card rewards since that’s why we’re here. Apple made them mighty straightforward. There is 1 unchanging category, no points or miles, just cash back the day you transact. Bam, cashback direct to Apple Cash every day in digital, easy to use if you’re a millennial and under, format.

Unfortunately, that’s where rewards, arguably the most important factor in this game, end their pro column and enter into the con column. The reward structure is 3% at Apple, 2% on Apple Wallet transactions, and 1% on the physical card. Not bad for Apple product discounts — I’ll likely use this for all my Apple purchasing that happens once every 6-8 years for new computers, except that I can’t find if there is any purchase protection or extended warranty that every other card in my black book has, so, maybe not. 2% on all Apple Wallet purchases seems legit, and it kind of is, but not for the military churner. Finding a blanket 2% cashback card without an annual fee is next to impossible. The Citi Double Cash does it. That’s about it. If you have to pay annual fees (ie. you aren’t active duty) this is a solid option. However, we don’t, so the US Bank Altitude Reserve card that has a $400 annual fee that we don’t pay that offers 3% cashback on ANY mobile wallet purchase is instantly the winner here. The 1% on the physical card, that you’ll likely use a lot since not every merchant everywhere has the ability to take an iPhone tap as payment, is the bare minimum across the board. Like I said above, I got this card just to write a blog article and have a slab of titanium, nothing more.

Apple Card Hand Feel

Is the Apple Credit Card really a slab of titanium? Yup, pretty awesome in the hand feel. It looks, feels, and if it could breathe it would breathe Apple. It is easily the sleekest card on the market. All white, silver mag strip, laser etched with an Apple logo, my name, the issuing bank, Goldman Sachs, and the network, Mastercard. That’s it. No signature, no unstandardized cvv code, no extraneous information. It’s legit titanium, no plastic sandwich, so it’s very light, surprisingly thick, very rigid, and gosh does it make the best metallic sound when dropped on a table, second to the now obsolete Ritz Carlton card. I’m a freaking fan. Credit card geeks unite.

The only time any of us 99%-ers will see Goldman Sachs on anything we own

Apple Card Application

So how did I get here? Not going to lie, the easiest credit card I’ve ever applied for, hands down. I opened up the Apple Wallet app, deleted a saved card because I maxed out the 12 card max, hit add card, and followed the Apple card instructions. They already had most of my app info because it’s Apple.

Then, the most profound thing happened. Apple soft pulled my Transunion report (fantastic because NO ONE uses Transunion and thus I had the least hard pulls on that report), gave me an approval decision based on the soft pull, told me my credit limit and interest rate BEFORE HARD PULLING MY REPORT, and let me decide if I wanted to accept their offer BEFORE HARD PULLING MY REPORT. HOW IS THIS NOT INDUSTRY STANDARD?!?!?!!? I’ve got to admit, I’m being honest with my review here but I have huge respect for Apple for this move. That is some consumer-focused next level action.

So anyway, I took my $15k limit at a surprisingly low 12.99% (not that I care) rate and accepted. They then hard pulled Transunion and I had the physical card in 3 days. One of those days being a Sunday. Card activation was legit just holding my iPhone close to the card envelope, so there must be some sort of RFID or something in the packing material. I want to keep it so I won’t be ripping it apart to confirm. On that note, keep your packaging material for card confirmation.

It’s really just Apple Pay with margin

Final Thoughts

How is the blog-o-sphere taking this? Surprisingly limitedly, I haven’t seen much either in favor or against, except for one little call to panic that isn’t really a big deal but gets clicks so it’s spreading. Turns out, if you lose your iPhone, you don’t really have a way to pay your card balance. Trivial issue at best, you’ll likely get a replacement before the interest period hits or you can just call Apple to pay it. Ignore the hype with this one. I’ve also seen entire articles on how Goldman Sachs is approving sub-prime borrowers and it’s anarchy. It’s not, credit cards aren’t that hard to get from anywhere, Goldman Sachs just has a reputation for only dealing with the top 1%.

All in all, this will be an excellent no annual fee 2% cashback card once Apple Wallet is more widely accepted. It’s for sure an Apple way to go about credit cards. But the part I like best is the part they want to make obsolete, the physical titanium card, and the rewards fall short for active duty that get the US Bank Altitude Reserve.

That’s a review.

All The, Free Things, Cards Care, Cards Bring

Travel Hacking Folly Beach, SC

On the personal military churning front, this has been a productive few weeks. I will low key brag about these wins under the guise of educational examples and bask in the trivial page views (notice we don’t run ads) like those Instagram hearts that get monetized somehow.

I heard this was a mandatory beach shot.

Citi Prestige 4th Night Free

To start, I visited the family a few weeks ago on a starting-to-be-annual trip to Folly Beach, SC. It was lovely and you should go. We stayed at the Regatta Inn as our go-to bed and breakfast (and happy hour, probably the selling point), which had been previously booked and a deposit paid months in advance by my parents. The parents, having been repeat guests, received a decent 10% discount on room rates and decided to bump us up to the top floor suites for some balcony ocean view experiences. This ran a 4 night, 2 room total to $2891.04, minus the 10% on rooms, giving a total room expense of $2637.44. Well, about a week prior to leaving I remembered that the Citi Prestige card (article pending) has a 4th-night free benefit that is, unfortunately, changing a bit in Sep, but still a pretty substantial value if used properly. The Regatta Inn is not listed under the Citi travel portal so I needed to call into the Concierge to see if the 4th night free would apply. They did some research, gave me a preliminary “no” and opened a case file on it. Not having any time to wait for that, I decided to just try and rebook the rooms on check-in. After a fun game of phone tag between myself, the Citi Concierge, and the Regatta Inn’s front desk, I was able to cancel my parents’ room reservations, refund their deposit, and rebook the room via Citi’s Concierge while standing in the lobby. This step, unfortunately, lost my parents’ 10% off since I was now the booking individual but gained the 4th night free, a $317 win. Since you can only use the benefit for 1 room per card, the wife repeated the same process with her card for the second room and voila, $634 win, giving a new room total of $2257.04 and an overall delta of $380.40 from the original bill. Not bad for 2 phone calls.

Beach life is the life for me.

Of course, those charges code as travel and earn 3x points on the Prestige, so the 6,771 points converted to cash ($67.71) wiped out our beach umbrella and chair rentals for the stay.

Free Uber Eats

Then, one evening we decided to order in dinner after an exhaustive day in the sun and discovered Uber Eats delivered to our cozy little B&B and with the free $75/month I get from my 5 Platinum cards we were able to get $73.89 worth of Zaxby’s delivered courtesy of Amex.

All in all, the power of the churn saved pops an appreciable $519.69 once all was said and done.

Amex Plat Escape Lounge Access

But the fun doesn’t stop there. On my way home I discovered a little known perk of the Amex Platinum card, the card that keeps on giving, I have never really paid attention to the Escape Lounge access the card provides because I had never come across an Escape Lounge. Turns out, the Greenville airport remodel added such a lounge and when I arrived bright and early at 0530 it was the perfect escape to free and no wait coffee. It was a pretty nice lounge too; not too big but well stocked with snacks and breakfast delights. The bar, although not open at 0530, also looks well stocked but I wasn’t sure if it was complimentary.

I Broke the Timberline Lodge in Denver

Then, I had a 6 hour layover in Denver. Normally, I’d relish this time in a Centurion lounge but Denver is still lacking such accommodations. This time I was planning on a little Priority Pass experiment. A lovely Priority Pass perk is the ability to get a $28 bill credit at participating PP restaurants and Denver has the Timberline Lodge, a well-traveled PP spot. Normally, you can only get 1 PP credit per visit per 24 hours (Timberline’s rules, PP actually resets every 2 hours). But, I came with 4 restaurant credit eligible PP memberships (Amex recently took the restaurant feature away from its PP memberships) from my Chase Sapphire Reserve, Ritz Carlton Card, Citi Prestige, and US Bank Altitude Reserve. So, in theory, I wouldn’t even have to wait for the 2 hour PP restriction and the Timberline would see each membership as a separate guest account. Well, with the first bill approaching the $28 max I cashed out and asked if I could swipe my PP again, to which the bartender said no and quoted the above rule, to which I asked about a separate PP membership account. The request was elevated to a supervisor and given the nod of approval and $28 credit the second was applied and I enjoyed a lovely few after breakfast cocktails. Then, somewhere in-between them allowing the second PP card and me finishing my cocktails, another manager had caught wind of this treacherous scandal and halted any further PP cards from my black book of cards citing that it was one $28 credit per person per 24 hour period. Lame. Of note, they have a bartender there with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things alcohol and he was an absolute delight to listen to. I will eagerly await purchase of his upcoming book: The Articulate Bartender Presents: The Complete Bartender.

Cap 1 Data Leak and Equifax’s Solution

Capital One Leaked Your Data and Equifax Has a Fix

Gosh, I slacked off on July posts. Fear not, the credit world provided nothing short of excitement since the last update and the sarcasm will flow free.

The Capital One Leak Details

Another week, another data leak. Capital One was the lucky winner this time to have its woefully inadequate data security breached by a hacker. But wait, TDWise, you are a military travel hacking blog, not a cyber security blog, how do you know that Cap 1’s data security was woefully inadequate? Oh, I’m glad you asked, reader. I say Cap 1 had woefully inadequate data security because the hacker, in a world of being able to cover your online footprints with ease, decided to deposit his newly acquired hoard of Cap 1 data for 100 Million Americans onto his public GitHub; a move that would subsequently lead to his arrest by the FBI. If that guy, a guy who couldn’t foresee his own arrest for cyber crimes after handing the FBI all the evidence (or, perhaps, neglected to check if he was logged into the public or private GitHub before his 100 Million American strong Cap 1 financial data dump) was able to penetrate Cap 1’s data security measures, then those measures were woefully inadequate.

So what data of yours did you give to Cap 1 that Cap 1 gave to a hacker that said hacker gave to the publicly accessible internet? Nothing of real consequence. If you had a business account with Cap 1 and used your social as your tax ID, that’s probably out there. All that data of yours that’s already on the internet for anyone willing to pay those annoying background check sites also went out (name, address, phone, email, DOB, and whatever stated income you lied to Cap 1 about getting), and some credit report info. So now what?

Should You Care?

Luckily, Equifax already lost your data and is still offering free credit monitoring for half of America, so there’s that (more on this below). But really, there’s nothing much to do. Enter: the TDWise opinion on data leaks. See, personal info leaks ALL THE TIME. It leaks in various batch sizes with 6-9 digits of affected people. It leaks from the government to China (thanks Office of Personnel Management) with far more thorough personal information, it leaks from credit reporting agencies, it leaks from banks a plenty, and it will continue to leak until companies you trust with personal information take their data security more seriously than a guy who practically asked the FBI for a felony conviction. So basically, all of our sensitive details are already in a dark web database somewhere waiting for the highest bidder in a game where everyone is the highest bidder. What we can take solace in is the sheer volume of data our data lives among. It takes some serious time to compile the needed details and use them in an identity stealing fashion. This inherent time stall then puts lottery winning odds to YOUR data being used in such a fashion. Will it happen eventually? Sure. Will that data be valid by the time it happens? Odds are slim.

There are really only two things that I do in preparation for the inevitable day one of our 48 and growing credit cards gets used by a Nigerian prince for mail-order Wal-Mart essentials. The first is using credit cards exclusively. All of them have zero fraud liability. Unauthorized charge pop up? Call it in and that charge goes away. Try that with debit or cash, Dave Ramsey. The other is having some sort of identity theft monitoring and since every data leak usually comes with complimentary monitoring, I now have about 5-6 emails pop in every time I change something on my credit report. It’s a fun race to see who is the fastest responder.

The Nicely Timed Equifax Solution

Speaking of complementary data monitoring, your Equifax financial data may not be worth $125 after all. The FTC has been forthcoming on the cash management of the settlement. Apparently, the money pot earmarked for the $125 payout is only $31 Million and the $125 thing was based on a mere 248,000 people requesting the cash. How anyone thought only 248,000 fine Americans would take the money and run in lieu of the 7th email to tell me my credit report has changed just goes to show how incredibly detached lawyers are from the internet. That said, I would be surprised if we all saw a cool $3 for our released data. It might be worth it to snag their monitoring offer as it comes with $1 Million of identity theft insurance that works for this Capital One leak too. Fear not, at least one of us is getting $20 Million for their duress during this endeavor. Some may get all hung up on the details of it being the Equifax CEO before being let go of his CEO-ness for losing all your data, but I’m sure he lost $20 Million in sleep over it.

“Free” $125 from Equifax!

Equifax is Giving You $125 for Leaking Your Financial Data

Readers, the time has come for Equifax’s data breach to come full circle and pay you some sweet sweet cash in return for your most sensitive of data.

Were you one of the 147 million Americans with hacked data? Odds are pretty good you are (my wife and I both were). You can check if you were here.

So Equifax let slip your digital identity to whoever is now selling it on the dark web, now what? Well, you get a sweet cut of the $425M settlement Equifax is paying out, at least $125 of that bad boy, and even more if you can prove damages and time spent fixing those damages to the tune of $25/hour (max 20 hours). I would be reeeeeally careful claiming any time with really legit documentation because perjury is not worth the $250 you are allowed to self certify. Documents must be uploaded for damage claims and the $10/month I pay for the Experian app probably isn’t worth the legal hassle.

Or You Can Get Credit Monitoring

The other guaranteed option (must pick cash or service) is 4 years of 3 bureau credit monitoring and then 6 years of Equifax monitoring. If you have banking relationships with USAA, Chase, Turbo Tax, Credit Karma, or pay for credit monitoring in some way, you already have this and the cash is likely a tastier option. I’ll once again warn you that I am not a lawyer and you should not take legal advice from a military travel hacking blog, I’m just giving you my thoughts towards cash in hand.

Perhaps you are an astute reader and did some quick math and are thinking, $425M divided by 147M is only around $3 per affected American. Yeah, you are right, there doesn’t seem to be enough money. My bet is that this will end up being a first come first paid out affair and that means you should check your eligibility and claim your pie piece now before the majority of America.

Bottom line is this is an easy $125 in your pocket sometime in Jan/Feb next year (legally can’t payout sooner than that). So do future you a favor and be pleasantly surprised next year when Equifax surprises you with a check in the mail when all you had to do was click some buttons and give up all your personal financial data.

Amex Crackdown, Capital One Crackdown, First Class Upgrades

Amex and Capital One Brought Down the Hammer

Sorry for the lack of post last week, I was away in a pretty intense class for work and didn’t have enough time or energy to put forth a proper post effort.

No More Amex Self-Referrals

In big news, Amex has cracked down on self-referral bonuses. See, about 6 months ago or so Amex revamped their referral system to first allow you to refer any card in the card family of your particular Amex card and then a short time later just allowed any Amex card to be referred from any Amex card. For example: Say you had a Hilton Aspire card and your friend wanted a Hilton Ascend card. You could access your Aspire referral link, scroll down to view other cards in the Hilton Family, select the Ascend, and copy and paste the link in your browser to refer them to the Ascend. Your Aspire would then snag a signup bonus as if you referred them to the Aspire. Then it became available to view any Amex card, not just card family, and you could snag any card’s referral bonus for referring any other Amex card. Well, the community discovered a loophole with this system where you could just use your own referral links to sign up for your next Amex card. It was a risky move as Amex is known for clawing back points that they deemed inappropriately earned but the community threw caution to the wind and rolled with it. Bad move.

This blog never suggested this loophole as we tend to err on the conservative side of the game. Turns out, that was a good move as Amex decided last week to clawback any points earned through the self-referral loophole. Since referrals are now being taxed at 1 cent per point via 1099 at years end, I’m curious to see if the 1099s will reflect the clawed back points or if the bold and daring will now have to pay taxes on the clawed back points. The bottom line, of course, is don’t be shady with Amex and use TDWise referral links for all your Amex card needs.

No More Old Capital One Accounts

Another pretty rough crackdown this week came from Capital One. Apparently, without warning, Cap1 officials decided to close any Cap1 credit card that had no account activity in the last three years. Letters were sent out saying you had about 3 months to liquidate your rewards while your account was restricted and then the account would close. No way to reinstate, lift the restriction, or otherwise reverse this decision. Normally, I wouldn’t care too much about a Cap1 card as they have little to offer in the premium card space, but my wife’s oldest account was a Cap1 card and now that’s going to hit her average age of accounts pretty hard. We tried to make a purchase and called customer service, both to no avail. Remember to show a little love to the sock drawer cards now and again. I’m going to now identify each card I don’t put natural spend on and buy some Amazon gift cards the first of every year. Live and learn I suppose.

Free First Class Via Ritz Carlton

Finally, some good news, today we were able to find some sweet Delta first-class upgrades for our upcoming Disney trip on a Newark to Orlando leg for $306 total. Seeing as we have Ritz card flight incidental cash to burn before the new year, those upgrades will now only cost us $6 out of pocket once Chase reimburses $300 of that charge. In even more first-class news, we found a 25k AA mile award flight for the wife to take our cat back east in preparation for our upcoming PCS to Virginia. The cat ticket will be another $125, but since we also have a bunch of Amex airline incidental cash to burn before the new year and gift cards are no longer an option, her Schwab Platinum card will cover that expense too. Travel is so free with appropriately applied credit cards.

New Citi Card and Amex Pay Over Time

My Wife Got Her Free AAdvantage Executive Card

I’m a huge fan of this card design and hand feel.

It’s been an exciting week of credit card optimization. To start, the wife signed up for and received her Citi AA Executive card, which begins the long road of meeting its $5k min spend. Of course, the main point of getting this card isn’t the spend but the Admirals Club membership. The 50k AA miles is just icing on the cake that will likely assist us in moving back to Virginia later this year. I’ll have to get on making a card page for this. These sweet free travel perks almost make the cross country moves every 1-2 years worth it.

She Also Got Her Free 10,000 Amex Membership Rewards Points

Another win came via snail mail with an AMEX Pay-Over-Time offer of 10k membership rewards points for signing up. The beauty of these offers is that signing up for Pay-Over-Time doesn’t actually do anything to your account. It makes you eligible to use your AMEX charge cards as credit cards for charges over $100, but since we pay off our cards in full every month (right?), it doesn’t actually do anything other than give you a free 10k points. Those points are easily liquidated to cash (although not the most beneficial use, but I like hard and understandable numbers) via the Schwab Platinum card to gain $125. That’s why it pays to check your junk mail, readers. I get excited for each and every piece from a bank. Also good to point out, when you get Plat cards never opt into the Pay-Over-Time feature, wait for Amex to bribe you with 10k points.

Some Speculation

On the more speculative front, I’ve been hearing two pretty exciting rumors, the first is the more likely of the two and that is a mid-tier ($250 annual fee) United card entering into the Chase lineup. This is likely to compete with the Delta Plat, which would be almost hard to do since the Delta Plat is kind of a fantastic card for the fee if you fly Delta a bunch. I’m very curious to see what it offers but that’s about it. Likely, it will fall under the 5/24 rule and I’ll never be able to get an application through. The other is far less likely but such a dream of mine I’ll put it out there. Amex might be sort of considering the possibility of changing the Platinum $200 airline credit to a blanket travel credit, akin to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Boy, would that be epic. Amex Plats would be the ultimate in travel rewards and luxury cards again. I’ll gladly go through this dry spell of no gift card reimbursements if it’s gearing up for a blanket travel credit. If you head over to the End Results page you’ll see that change would net the wife and I $2800 in travel a year in addition to the $2350 we already have. That’s a whopping $5150 in travel. Disney cruises till we die. So please, Amex, if you’re reading this, make the best move you can make with Plat upgrades and give the people a travel credit!

Also, a friendly reminder that the Amex Plat mid-year credits have renewed. That means your personal Plats are charged with another $50 of Saks 5th Ave credit goodness and your Biz Plats have another $100 to use at Dell.

Airline Gift Cards and Citi Troubles

No More Gift Cards from Amex Platinum

It is, unfortunately, a week for the worse in the credit card game. I am very displeased to announce that there are no longer any airline gift certificates that work to trigger the AMEX airline incidental reimbursement. Delta and Southwest went the way of American Airlines, and United Airlines still has no gift certificate option. Perhaps a new loophole will open before the year is out — but unless you want to take a major gamble, I’d start buying out in-flight liquor offerings as airline reimbursement on anything else is going to be difficult. 

This change is a pretty severe hit for the Amex credit card portfolio, and might even alter some of my card recommendations in the very near future. The Amex Platinum credit cards still hold significant value with Uber, Saks, and the various other perks offered on that card — but because of removing the airline reimbursement benefit, the Hilton Aspire cards no longer have the edge over the Bonvoy Brilliant cards. It MIGHT be a better plan of action to try and hold three Brilliant cards, one Aspire, and one Delta credit card — but you need to assess your travel plans and see what will work best for you. I still like the 2+2+1 balance.

Citi Cuts Almost All Card Insurance

In even more unfortunate news, Citi has just up and canceled the vast majority of their secondary card perks — on basically all of their credit cards. Starting September 22, 2019, Citi credit card churners will be losing out on the following benefits:

  • Worldwide Car Rental Insurance 
  • Trip Cancellation & Interruption Protection 
  • Worldwide Travel Accident Insurance 
  • Trip Delay Protection 
  • Baggage Delay Protection 
  • Lost Baggage Protection 
  • Medical Evacuation 
  • Citi® Price Rewind 
  • 90 Day Return Protection 
  • Missed Event Ticket Protection

The main perks for acquiring the cards in the military churner’s wallet still remain — lounge access on the American Airlines Executive Card, $250 travel credit on the Prestige Card, as well as 4th night free booking on the Prestige card — but you may want to focus on Chase for your travel and insurance and such. Fortunately the extended Warranty and Purchase Protections remain for Citi credit cards, and the newly rolled out cell phone insurance on the Prestige card is sticking around for the time-being as well.

 

End of June, Southwest GCs, and Aviator Red

Use Your Mid-Year Bennies

Saks insists on the gift box like I’m giving this as a gift or something silly

The end of June is approaching, which means it’s time to use your $50 Saks credit on the Amex Platinum and $100 Dell credit on the Amex Business Platinum. The Dell credit is easy to snag online. If you don’t have anything you’re jonesing for on Dell’s website there is the ability to purchase x-box live gift cards, which then can liquidate into your Microsoft account to be used later. The Saks credit is a little trickier, since nothing but MAC makeup costs $50 or less at Saks, making it a lot better to purchase Saks gift cards IN-STORE, NOT AT OFF 5TH. Then you can save for those red-soled shoes girls like and surprise your lady friend with an $800 pair. Pro Tip: nicely ask a knowledgeable employee to split your gift card purchase over multiple cards so that you can walk away with 1 $300 gift card instead of 6 $50 gift cards. I’ve done it twice at two different locations.

(Update: Gift card reimbursements are now dead, do not buy ANY gift cards expecting a reimbursement) Odd data points are coming in that you need to limit your Southwest gift card buys to $100 and under, maybe, to get the Amex Plat airline credit to trigger. This liquidation method is slowly closing in as the only ones left now are Delta (at $50 cards from a desktop computer) and Southwest *maybe* at $100 or less. Fingers should remain crossed for American Airlines to actually go back to Misc Fee coding on their gift certificates.

And finally, I dropped a new card article on the Barclay AAdvantage Aviator Red card. Check it out and get super cheap AA flights if you’re looking for the next card!