Just the Tip(s)

Category Archives for Just the Tip(s).

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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So I needed to reset myself this week. Working too much, friend in town, holiday, etc.

Expedia/Swiss ticket

I got myself into a couple of situations where I didn’t fully excavate the T&Cs – the dreaded terms and conditions – which further depleted me.

All is fine and good until you get to this little set of rules that is typically appended onto something you (or I) might think is a really good deal. And I’ve gotten myself into some sorry situations for not fully reading them these past few days.

In the post where I talked about the upcoming trip to Venice in Swiss biz class, I said:

I was able to click through the FIA/Fidelity portal to get 3 points a dollar back + points for using a mileage-earning credit card… 


Had I properly read the T&Cs I would’ve seen this disclaimer:

Retailer Exclusions
Bonus points will be awarded only after travel is completed. The following are not eligible to earn bonus points: Air Travel, pre-packaged vacations, Groupon Getaways, any car transaction exceeding a purchase price of $5,000 USD. Car transactions between $1,000-$5,000 are subject to investigation by Expedia.

AKA I got nothing for clicking this link and spending nearly $1,500. I would’ve earned 1 point a dollar by instead clicking through to Travelocity at the Ultimate Rewards portal. 1,500 points is better than no points. But I didn’t read the T&Cs, so, like a schmuck, I got nothin’.

Zoola Rewards

Then, I really thought the Zoola Rewards portal would a boon. After all, you have to put your credit cards on file with them. I thought it would be a great way to stack a lot of points into one transaction. Key word: thought.

I tweeted them and got confirmation that you do have to click through their portal to earn the cash back. Therefore, I would not advise using that portal unless you want CASH. But even still, if you have cards that earn Ultimate Rewards, you can redeem those points for cashback or a statement credit – and they’re much more versatile in case an idea for a trip comes along. So, the Zoola Rewards thing could be good for those who don’t have cards that can earn cash or statement credits and just want to earn cash – not points or miles. In all other instances, it’s not the right thing to use. I have to recommend avoiding this portal now. Why? I confirmed, on Twitter, their T&Cs.

So there you have it.

Bottom line

Let this be a reminder to always confirm what you’re getting – or what you think you’re getting. No matter how rushed you are to snag a deal, it only takes a few extra seconds to read. Don’t make an assumption. You know what they say about assumptions. They make an ass out of u & me.

Or, this week, just me.

Happy travels and remember to read the fine print!

Zoola Rewards – a new cashback portal

Update: I only recommend this portal if you want CASH BACK and don’t want to earn points or miles. AVOID this portal if your card offers cash back or statement credits. See this post for more info and the confirmation I received via Twitter.

Sorry if I’m tardy to the party on this one but… 

I just signed up for Zoola Rewards, and think you should too. It’s a new(?) cashback rewards program. All you do is plug in your Visa or MasterCard credit or debit card numbers and shop at any of the merchants to receive cashback in the form of a check mailed directly to you once a year or a direct deposit in 3, 6, or 12 month intervals. I chose direct deposit every 3 months (duh).

I was only semi-interested in the service until I started poking around the website and saw a LOT of familiar merchants with some nice cashback returns.

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List of Changes to American in the AA/US Airways Merger


This is mostly for my own benefit, just because I want to keep track of everything that is happening with American during their merger with US Airways.

I will continue to update this post (though hopefully not frequently…).

Note: I do not really care about the US Airways side of things, only how they affect American.

On April 8, 2014 (with no advance notice):

  • American has eliminated distance-based Oneworld Explorer awards
  • American has eliminated stopovers at the North American “gateway” city on AAdvantage awards
  • American has created multiple tiers of AAdvantage standard award levels
  • AAdvantage Gold members and Dividend Miles Platinum and Gold members will receive one fewer free checked bag. American Executive Platinums still get 3 free checked bags and Platinums get two. Golds now get only one
  • Flights to and from South America won’t have second bag charges
  • Full fare tickets and AAnytime awards do not get free checked bags
  • Phone ticketing fee increased to $35 from $25

(Hopefully not) To be continued…

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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Seeking kindreds on the Barclaycard Travel Community

Update 2/1/15: I have been BANNED from the Barclaycard Travel Community. 

I don’t know why, but this is what I see when I log in now:



So if anyone has given me kudos, but I haven’t reciprocated, this is why. Thank you guys for the support, but it looks like I’m out of this one, unfortunately. :/


This post is part personal ad and part information.

Stepping up the game

Barclays Bank has been doing some really cool things lately, especially with their new Barclaycard Arrival (the naming of this card is so weird). They’ve created a revolutionary card with instant posting of points, instant redemptions, a great portal, free FICO score, and a slew of other great benefits. Anything a bank can do to keep a consumer engaged with their product is a really good thing. Now, they’ve made a community. Read More

If you haven’t signed up for Rocketmiles yet… do so now!

This is just a shameless advert because the referral bonus has doubled for three days only, starting today. But, in all seriousness, if you haven’t checked out Rocketmiles, they offer a truly great service.

What it’s good for

  • Booking travel for others
  • Keeping mileage accounts active
  • Earning AAdvantage miles (the one with the least amount of transfer partners)
  • Sometimes getting a better cancellation policy than booking through other sites

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Evernote Review: Remember Everything

Also see: 

Be the elephant

Be the elephant

Evernote, for me, was one of those services that my friends highly praised, but that took me a while to get into for myself. Maybe it will be like that for you, or maybe you’ll instantly fall in love with it.

I have a new brain. And that brain is Evernote. Their tagline is “Remember everything.”

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Axiom for Bank Points and Airline Miles

Axiom time.


It is very hard to assign a monetary value to points and miles. Specifically, points issued by banks (Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, Thank You points, Arrival “miles”) and airline mileage programs (AAdvantage, MileagePlus, SkyMiles, Easy Returns, Avios, etc., etc. etc.)

Valuations vary wildly depending on who you ask. But if you ask me, it’s simple. You want to get at LEAST two cents of value out of each point or mile.

And that’s the smoking gun right there. Don’t waste time trying to assign some sort of arbitrary value out of your points and miles. You want to shoot for a minimum value of $.02 each.

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Free Admirals Club Membership Through Business Extra? Yes, please!

Beginning March 22nd, 2014, the American Express Platinum Card will no longer permit entry to American Airlines Admirals Club lounges (only Delta SkyClubs, Priority Pass Select lounges, and Centurion lounges).

While looking through the Business Extra website, I noticed something mighty interesting: a  yearly Admirals Club membership can be had for 3,000 points!


Click “Redeem Points”

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New App Alert: AirHelp. Know Your Options When You Get Bumped from a Flight

Ever been bumped from a flight and had no idea what your options were?

Nowadays, with mergers, elimination of hubs, and less competition on certain routes, airlines routinely oversell flights based on how many people haven’t shown up for the flight in the past. Sometimes the bumps are voluntary, and fliers are happy to accept a voucher or rebooking for a future flight. But what if you’re bumped against your will? What are your options?

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