Finance

Category Archives for Finance.

What’s in my wallet? (Evaluating credit cards and travel goals)

As I begin to figure out my points and miles strategy for 2015, I thought it would be helpful assess what I currently have in my wallet.

Pre-warning: this is a very text heavy post. No pretty pictures to look at, just a whole lotta straight talk (1,200 words worth).

By bank:

American Express

  • Platinum Card
  • EveryDay Preferred

I just got a new Platinum Card in hopes that I’ll actually get a bonus for opening it – but I’m not holding my breath. In any regard, I already cashed in the $200 in airline incidentals on AA gift cards in 2014 and will do so again this year, so I will make back most of the annual fee right away.

I occasionally use Priority Pass Select on lounge visits that would otherwise be $50 a pop, and love dipping into the Centurion Lounges where I easily drink over $50 in cocktails alone (not to mention the spa treatments).

I also have utilized the Fine Hotels & Resorts program a time or two, and really love the near-constant Amex sync offers. So, I’m keeping it.

As for the EveryDay Preferred… it really has become by “EveryDay” card – I use it constantly and get 1.5-4.5x Membership Rewards points on everything I buy, which is pretty sweet. The earning is decent for non-bonus spend and is great for groceries, gas, and even more sync offers. (Email me if you’d like a referral to this card!)

If only Amex would up the points-earning power of the Platinum Card, I might actually put a buck or two of spend on it.

Barclays

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I found the REDbird to make a (data) point in New York City

First of all, Happy New Year’s Eve! And now…

I HAB THA REDBIRD

I just got back from REDbird Land (AKA the Memphis metro area). I was there visiting family for the holiday and made a point to stop in to a Target to pick up a REDbird card (AKA Target American Express Prepaid REDcard) and load it up with $500 – the max load for a temporary card.

The REDbird experience

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Airbnb First Month By the Numbers

I have set up an Airbnb here in NYC as a new income stream.

There has been a lot of spilled ink about Airbnb lately, especially in New York where it is a VERY hot topic, to say the least. I work in real estate, so am particularly close to the issue.

I found an ideal one bedroom apartment in New York’s East Village neighborhood for $2,300 a month. And then I spent a lot of money on it. This post is about exploring the investment and starting up this side income stream with a focus on numbers. REAL numbers (except my electricity bill which I have to estimate.)

Cash outlay

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I rented an Apartment to Airbnb in NYC

Ladies and gentlemen, one of the craziest things I have ever done (other than using Airbnb as a verb in the title).

I just rented an apartment in Manhattan for the express purpose of listing it on Airbnb. 

airbnb-log-100009316-orig

As some of you know, I work in real estate in New York, so I’m privy to rentals and have seen a lot of spilled ink on the whole Airbnb debate. It’s a very hot topic in the city right now.

I heard of an apartment in the East Village that was sitting there, easy approval, beautiful block, door was open if I wanted to go check it out.

A few people in my office have Airbnb apartments and seeing their calendars full of green (which means days booked) got me thinking.

So when I walked into that apartment, I quickly ran some numbers and just like that, decided to go for it.

Starting up

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Confirmed: Amex Serve $50 Bonus Works with Amazon Payments + Posts Instantly

Always a good feeling to wake up to an extra $50 when you don’t expect it. Last week, I talked about my experience getting the Amex Serve card after ditching Bluebird. I’m currently testing out different banks to see if they charge cash advance fees + give me points for using credit cards. So far, I’ve confirmed US Bank does not charge any fees and they already posted my Club Carlson points.

Serve’s $50 Bonus Promo

Right now and until the end of June, Serve is running a promo that gives $50 for two direct deposits of $250 or more. The questions in mind when I saw this were:

  • Does Amazon Payments count as direct deposit?
  • When will the bonus post?

Bluebird generates a monthly statement like any other bank account. I thought maybe Serve would do the same thing and post the bonus at the end of a statement cycle, that is, if Amazon Payments counted at all.

I can confirm that Amazon Payments does indeed work as direct deposit AND that the bonus posts as soon as the second direct deposit clears.

All in a day's work

All in a day’s work

I loaded $1,000 to Amazon Payments after getting in on the recent (and current!) 6.6% cashback at the Arrival portal. It’s a great way to generate some points and liquidate Amex gift cards. In fact, I just ordered a second round.

From there, I sent over two direct deposits of $250 to my Serve account simultaneously.

This morning, all the cash was in the account with the bonus $50. Can’t beat that!

Bottom line

If you’re at all interested in getting a Serve account, I highly recommend signing up using this promo link and scoring an extra $50 for doing so.

Serve is a great complement to the points and miles world if you’re far from a Walmart and can’t load up Bluebird at CVS any more. Or if Walmart stops accepting gift cards for Bluebird reloads. (There have been reports that this might be starting to happen.) $1,000 a month is the credit card load limit (on the non-Isis version) for Serve accounts. It isn’t much, but it’s enough to pay a few bills and still get some points rolling in. Every little bit helps. It really does! – I did some quick math on this post.

Amex Serve: Which banks charge cash advance fees?

Update 3/3/15: US Bank credit cards are no good with Serve. It is coding as a cash advance. 

Update 11/2/14: I tried to load up Serve with my Chase British Airways and it is coding as a cash advance! I have also read reports that the Sapphire and Freedom are starting to code as CA, too – so with Chase, beware

I also loaded up $5 with my US Bank Club Carlson Visa. It is still on my account as a pending transaction – will post with an update soon. 

For now, I am using my FIA Fidelity Amex. I couldn’t get the Serve website to accept my Barclaycard Arrival no matter how many times I tried. No idea why. But it took my Fidelity Amex on the first try, so not sure if the website is glitching out or what. Just keep an eye on Serve. I think it’s starting to go the way of Vanilla Reloads, unfortunately.

Update 10/12/14: There is some speculation that US Bank (and possibly other banks) are starting to code Serve reloads as cash advances. These fees destroy any value you get from a points-earning credit card. I have already loaded my $1,000 this month so can’t personally test until November. I’d recommend loading up $5 and giving it a few days – let the transaction post. If you are charged a fee, avoid any other cards issued by that bank. The next step in manufactured spend is hopefully just around the corner!

As you guys know, I just ditched Bluebird and got a Serve card to help manufacture some spend post-Vanilla Reloads at CVS.

From what I understand, you can still purchase Vanilla Visa cards with a credit card at CVS, assign it a PIN with the first purchase, and use a service like Evolve Money to make bill payments. I may employ this method soon to pay student loans and electricity bills (HT: Neil). Just make sure your payee is in their system before you get started.

Why I got Serve

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Bye, Bluebird: My Experience Getting the Serve Card

Yesterday, after writing the post about how to best manufacture spend post-Vanilla, I went ahead and dumped Bluebird. I’ve heard of many ways people have done it, and the different sequences of opening/closing, and all the conflicting rules about switching from Bluebird to Serve.

Here’s how did it:

  • Applied for a Serve card by following this promo link to get a $50 credit after two direct deposits of $250 or more (I plan to do this with Amazon Payments in May)
  • Yes, WITH my Bluebird account still open
  • Of course I got an “account being reviewed” message because you can’t have a Bluebird and a Serve account at the same time
  • So then I called Bluebird CS to close account
  • Then Serve CS to open the pending account
  • Seconds after I hung up, I got a “Welcome to Serve” email

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Manufacturing spend post-Vanilla at CVS

Vanilla Reloads: Gone the way of the dinosaur

Vanilla Reloads: Gone the way of the dinosaur

Man, the news of CVS changing their policy to cash-only for Vanilla Reloads shook my little points manufacturing world upside down. I loved it so much because I essentially turned CVS into my bank; loading Vanilla Reload cards was my deposit transaction. Quite literally, because that’s how I’ve been paying rent up until this month.

So now what?

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Switching credit lines / allocations with American Express

Activation notification via email from American Express

Activation notification via email from American Express

I got my new Amex EveryDay Preferred card the other day. Instead of being really excited about, like usual, I was sorta like, “Hrmph.” My credit limit was not… where I wanted it to be. I wasn’t satisfied by how low it was. Not to worry, I can just switch around lines of credit, right?

Denied again

I have two consumer lines of credit with Amex that are not charge cards: the Delta Skymiles Platinum card and now, the EveryDay Preferred card.

On the Delta card, let’s say I have a $10,000 credit limit, and on the EveryDay, let’s say they gave me $2,000. I have $12,000 in total to switch around however I want, in theory. $6,000 for each, for example. No problem, I thought, I’ll give Amex a call. Read More

Just booked: A ~$20,000 Dollar Trip to Paris for FREE? You betcha!

See you soon, Paris!

See you soon, Paris!

I am over the moon right now because I just booked an epic trip to Paris in June. I have booked complex, multi-stop and RTW itineraries before, but even still, was amazed at how easily and quickly this trip came together.

The trip

Leaving from EWR.

  • EWR-ORY in business class on British Airways
  • 4 nights at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome
  • 1 night at the Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile on Club floor
  • ORY-LHR-JFK in business class on British Airways
  • 2 incredibly stoked adventurers

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Amex Premier Rewards Gold Vs. EveryDay Preferred

I find myself in the dilemma of whether or not to keep the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card or not now that I have the EveryDay Preferred card.

premier-rewards-gold amex

VS

amex-everyday

Premier Rewards Gold

This one is strong for big spenders, as spending over $30K triggers a bonus 15K Membership Rewards points. The earning structure for this one is:

  • 3x on airfare
  • 2x on gas and groceries
  • 1x everywhere else

And the annual fee is $175.

EveryDay Preferred

This one is good for smaller spenders or those that make a lot of “everyday” transactions. I’m definitely in this category. Living in NYC, it’s easy to acquire the 30 transactions a month needed to trigger the 50% bonus this card gives. The earning structure on this one is:

  • 3x at grocery stores
  • 2x at gas stations
  • 1x everywhere else

And the annual fee is $95.

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My Experience Getting the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card

Also see:

This was my first Amex experience where I was NOT instantly approved. In fact, I was straight up DENIED for the Amex EveryDay Preferred card.

I didn’t take a screen shot of the “denied” decision page because I was kind of shocked and didn’t think to do it. But yes, it said I would receive a letter in the mail… and all that yada yada.

This was to be my sixth Amex card, and the fourth issued directly from Amex (I have the Platinum Card, the Premier Rewards Gold, and Delta Platinum SkyMiles cards). Recently, I’ve been thinking of closing the PRG and/or Delta card because I really don’t use them all that much. I’d need to spend at least $30K on the PRG to make it worthwhile, and you all know how I feel about Delta by now.

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