I Just Got 25,000 Bonus Miles – Did You?

I don’t read my emails carefully enough! Today, I realized that the Starwood AMEX credit card I opened in March has a $5,000 spend minimum…not $3,000! This sent me on a tear to spend $2,000 in the next 48 hours. Yikes!

Fortunately, one of the emails I noticed is offering a whopping 50,000 point bonus on $2,500 airfare spend. Yes, that is 20 points per dollar!!! Now, we all know I don’t like to spend money on my own travel…but to spend $2,500 and get the equivalent of up to 2 round trip flights in points? That isn’t so bad! Even better, I have a business trip sneaking up on me. I had booked with Delta an hour before I realized the Starwood fiasco, so I quickly called to cancel that trip – remember, within 24 hours there are generally no change or cancellation fees. Yes, the United airfare cost more than the Delta airfare, but if my employer complains….I’ll gladly pay the difference.

Here’s what the email (entitled “Remember to register for your exclusive offer: Fly your way to 50,000 bonus miles”) looks like:

United MileagePlus Bonus

According to a May post from the Doctor Of Credit and reader comments, the offers are customized (as opposed to targeted, I expect.) You can try your hand at this link or search your email – probably just for the text, “Remember to register for your exclusive offer.”

My flight came out to just over $1,000. I’ll earn 25,000 points. This is substantial! Usually, it takes a credit card bonus to get anywhere near that kind of accumulation. From the United page, simply register and book your airfare. Since you can complete travel through November, maybe that expensive Thanksgiving flight will actually be worth something!

What was your offer? When will you travel?

United is offering me up to 50,000 points! I only expect to get to 25,000, but that is quite a great deal. Hey, it convinced me to cancel a more convenient, cheaper Delta flight…so United has definitely come up with a good promotion this time!

I have a business trip that will cover this expense, but maybe you have a bachelor or bachelorette party, Thanksgiving, engagement, the wedding itself, or your honeymoon. If you aren’t able to travel free for your honeymoon, maybe you can at least get a nice perk out of paying for the trip!

 

Viva-ing Las Vegas: Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties, Weddings or Honeymoons

If there is a city ripe for being cheap, it’s Las Vegas.

If there is a city ripe for being cripplingly expensive, it’s Las Vegas.

You choose!

My version of Las Vegas includes the least expensive resort rates, the best promotions on shows and attractions, and complimentary meals whenever they’re available; this opens up the budget for gambling, dining splurges, or whatever you’re into. The city is a hub for bachelor and bachelorette parties, weddings (planned or last minute!) and honeymoons. I’ll dedicate a short series to the city; use this page as your jumping-off point and I’ll reference back to it in follow-on articles.

Choose any of the following links for more information (links will become active when articles are published):

  • Hyatt/Mlife partnership and benefits
  • Starwood Preferred Guest/Total Rewards partnership and benefits
  • Groupon/LivingSocial stacked promotions
  • McCarran Airport (LAS) Lounges
  • Wedding Venues and Accessories
  • Getting Around Town
  • Getting Out of the Casino – a handful of off-strip entertainment ideas

Up to 34% Off Engagement Rings at Zales!

This is a darn good deal!

If you’re not a Discover cardholder and it’s diamond-shoppin’ time, you might want to take a few minutes to consider this option.

zales

First, sign up for your card at discover.com/double – this DOUBLES all cash back for your first year as a cardholder (plus offers no interest for a whole year! See the last portion of the post for more…) So, when you see Discover Deals (the Discover portal) offering 10% back, that makes it an easy 20% back. Zales has 10% back through the end of the year – just be sure to read the fine print, as it says not valid with other offers. But, does that rule really apply? The answer is “YMMV” – your mileage may vary (you’ll see this expression around many travel blogs and deal sites as a disclaimer that the promotion might not work exactly as advertised, so proceed at your own discretion.) Zales is currently offering 15% off on $1,500, but it may not pair with the Discover offer. So, it’s your choice whether or not to take the chance. Let’s do the math and decide.

Just the 15% Off: Assuming you’re buying a $2,000 engagement ring. That would trigger the 15% off, or a $1,700 sticker price. You should probably use a new credit card that has a sign up bonus on $1,000 so you can make progress toward that free honeymoon! However, if you use your Discover card, you’ll get the standard 1% back, doubled to 2%, for an extra $34 off. Your price would be $1,668.

Just the 20% Back at Discover: Assuming you’re buying a $2,000 engagement ring, your price would be $2,000 and you’ll get $400 in cash back through the bonus plus the standard 1%, or $20, doubled to $40. Your price would be $1,580.

Use both, cross your fingers it works:  Assuming you’re buying a $2,000 engagement ring, your price would be $1,700 after the 15% discount and you’ll get $340 in cash back through the bonus plus the standard 1%, or $17, doubled to $34. End price is $1,326 – a total discount of about 34% off!

What would I do? I would definitely use the 15% off code and shop through the Discover portal! I could save an ADDITIONAL 16% over just using the 20% portal offer ($1,326 vs $1,580), and will pay an “extra” 6%, at most, if I only get the 15% without the cash back bonus ($1,668 vs $1,580.) The only factor that might change my mind would be a significant travel bonus if I used a non-Discover card on the purchase.

Don’t know what you’re shopping for?

If you need help picking out a stone online, don’t hesitate to ask for help. I also suggest the folks over at Price Scope and the Holloway Cut Adviser as great tools for your search. You should pop in to a store or two to get a feel for your personal preference and corresponding prices to make sure this is the best deal you can find.

I might be poking around for a gift for myself, with these prices…

Obligatory financial responsibility statement

Using a credit card takes responsibility. This card happens to come with 0% interest for ONE YEAR. In other words, if you can’t pay off the purchase in ONE YEAR, don’t make it! The rates skyrocket to 10-20% in the 13th month, which will immediately wipe out any savings from using the card!

The Southwest Companion Pass: Two Years of Buy One, Get One Free Airfare

Every single travel blogger has written about this, so I’ll point you here, here, and here if this post is incomplete.

How It Works

  1. Sign up for not one, but two new credits cards at the exact same time (open two browser windows and hit “Submit” at the same time).
  2. Meet the spend limits and earn 50,000 points per card.
  3. On your way to the spend limit ($2,000 per card), earn an additional 4,000 points, or one point per dollar.
  4. Pay additional wedding and living expenses for a maximum total of $6,000, thereby earning an additional 6,000 points.

Add it up: 50,000 + 50,000 + 4,000 + 6,000 = 110,000

In other words, of the 110,000 points you need for the companion pass, 100,000 come from credit card sign up bonuses.

The Companion Pass

Once you hit 110,000 miles in a calendar year OR travel blahbity blah number of segments (something like one segment every three days…who does that?) you’ll earn the coveted Companion Pass. With it, you can designate a travel companion (and may change this companion two or three times per year) who will get a free ticket (YES! Just pay the $10 security fee or whatever it is these days!). The pass is valid for the remainder of the current year and the entire following year, so you may want to hit that 110,000 mark in January to maximize the amount of time you have to use it.

Note that points generally post just after your billing statement closes, not after a purchase is made. So, if your statement closes Dec 15, your points will post in December. Points through Rapid Rewards Shopping (more on that later) could post the next day. Be careful!

Booking A Free Companion Ticket

You add the companion after you book your flight from your Itinerary page. There’s a great guide here.

How do I apply for the right credit cards?

Please know that both cards have to go in the same name (you can’t get one and have your fiance(e) get the other – use the same name and Rapid Rewards number on both cards).

If Chase wants to know why you’re asking for two cards, that’s an easy answer! You are planning a wedding and want to separate those expenses from your daily expenses.

My suggestion is to get the Plus and Premier cards. Yes, $69 and 99/yr fee. It’s worth it (and you’re going to cancel once you get the Companion Pass anyway, so you only have to deal with the fees once). If those links happen to give you trouble, hit up Bing.com (why not Google?) and scour the internet until you find both links. It’s incredibly important that you sign up for both on the same day, else you will not be able to get the two bonuses…and you will make it almost impossible to reach the Companion Pass target of 110,000 without a LOT of work.

10,000 points?! 

Yes. Proceed with caution! If you only get one point per dollar, that means $10,000 in expenses! If you miss a payment or carry a balance, you’ll very quickly wipe out the benefits this card has to offer. I am an advocate for NO debt. If you aren’t able to pay off these expenses, you’ll need to do the math and determine whether the interest payments make sense. I can’t decide that for you – my blanket answer is always no. Keep reading, though, to learn how to spend as close to $4,000 as possible in order to get 10,000 points…and, even better, how to do so without spending money you weren’t already planning to.

Here are a few ideas as to how you can hit those spend limits – which is effectively $4,000 to get the bonuses and as little as possible beyond that to get the Companion Pass.

Many of these require that you pay for something with your card, only to have a family member or friend pay you back. In normal circumstances, maybe that would make you uncomfortable. But, if you tell them what you’re doing, I suspect you’ll have their support (and envy!).

  1. Pay your venue deposit. They may request a check, but you should ask about charging it. If they require a 3% fee to run a credit card, that is your decision. Personally, if I have a $10,000 expense, 3% of that would be $300. I’d be done the spend requirements and that might be worth saving the trouble. Just be aware of how that affects when your points (and, therefore, Companion Pass) are going to post. And, do you have the cash to pay off the balance immediately?
  2. Pay off your wedding dress. If mom and dad are paying, are you comfortable asking them to let you charge it? If they understand your really smart plan for the next two years of travel, they’re more likely to say yes.
  3. Buy all of your bridesmaids’ dresses and cover the initial tux rental. Yep, insurance, too. 🙂 This could easily be a $500 expense, and they’re going to pay you back.
  4. BYOB! Does your venue allow you to provide the alcohol? More on that in a future post.
  5. Pay for your florist/coordinator/transportation/photographer/decorator/hair stylist in advance (or, at least the deposit since you may want to have some leverage in case of trouble).
  6. Buy American Express gift cards ($2,000 will run you less than $15 in fees) and hang on to that card until you need to spend it. In other words, convert your cash to gift cards via the credit cards for points.
  7. Buy your thank-you stationary or, if you want to use photographs and can’t order now, buy gift cards to where ever you intend to purchase.
  8. Pay normal living expenses, such as your rent, via Redcard or Amazon payments – especially if your landlord is hip.
  9. Buy all of those other thank you gifts (bridesmaids, parents, etc) in advance.
  10. I won’t recommend paying for your hotel, because I think that should be done via rewards, but you’re going to have to eat, drink, and entertain yourself on your trip. Buy gift cards to the restaurants you intend to visit or find out what gift cards the pool bar accepts…and stock up in advance!
  11. Stock up on other gift cards you know you’ll use, such as gas cards and grocery store cards.

Reducing the $10,000 to $4,000

You’ll have to spend $4,000 no matter what, because you have to meet the $2,000 requirement on each card. But, there are some clever ways to get the additional 6,000 points.

Remember that our goal is to spend $4,000 and earn 10,000 points (you got 100,000 from the bonuses and need 10,000 more for the Companion Pass). Hypothetically, if you spend $4,000 and earned three points per dollar, that would be 12,000 points, right?

Enter Shopping Portals.

Rapids Rewards Shopping is your gateway to more points for fewer dollars. Today, for example, you can get 6 points per dollar at Macy’s. That means if you spend $1,000, you’ll get 6,000 of those 10,000 points. Your remaining $3,000 in spend (to hit the two $2,000 limits) will earn you at least another 3,000 points…and it’s almost done! 110,000 points! (No, I don’t think you’re going to spend $1,000 at Macy’s…but what if you find your bridesmaids’ dresses? Tuxes? Gown? Mother of the bride dress? Be creative!)

Here is a snapshot of the current highest earning options from the portal. Anyone up for a year of DirecTV? Might be worth it!

Screenshot (44)

Reducing $4,000 to Nada

I post regularly about how you can buy stuff and get all of your money back, so just keep an eye on the blog. A few weeks ago, it was $44 worth of paper at Staples that you ended up profiting $10+ on. While I’m unlikely to strike gold and find $10,000 worth of free stuff, every little bit helps. Talk to your family and friends and see if they support the charge and pay back idea. Weddings are one of the most expensive events in a lifetime – get the absolute most you can in free travel and rewards!

Wait, what?

I’ve been doing this for a long time, so there’s a good chance I’ve left out a vital detail that seems obvious to me. Please leave your questions and comments so that I can improve on this entry!

Rules of Engagement: How to Save on Every Purchase

This three-part series will cover the foundation of any bargain hunter’s “training.” These are simple, minimal-effort rules (no coupon clipping or poring over sales flyers.) Once you understand them, you’ll find 5% off or more on almost every dollar you spend! Be creative in applying these guidelines to both your wedding expenses and every day shopping.

#1: The Credit Card Game
#2: Portal Shopping
#3: Discount Gift Cards

Rules of Engagement, #2 – Portal Shopping

These rules are so important to being a budget savvy shopper (bride, groom, event planner – whatever!) that they’re getting high priority here at Unveiled Savings.This trick works for almost every online purchase you’re going to make, whether for your wedding or general shopping.

How to get Free Cash and Miles from Online Shopping: A Portal Example

Let’s say you want to buy toasting flutes over at Things Remembered.
1. Remember that Things Remembered has a website. Go shop around and pick out what you like in store or online.
2. Visit topcashback.com.
3. Search for Things Remembered, then click Cashback.

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7% Cashback on a purchase you were gonna make anyway!
4. Check the Merchant Notes. Some vendors may restrict the transactions that earn cash back or are completed with gift cards. Make sure you know the rules.
5. Click “Get Cashback Now”- a new window or tab will open that directs you to ThingsRemembered.com. This is an important page, because it is tracked from topcashback. The track is how you get paid!

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Make sure you shop on the page opened by topcashback!
6. Complete your purchase directly from the window opened by topcashback. Otherwise, your purchase may not be tracked, and you may not receive cash back.

Which rewards programs can I use?

Visit cashbackmonitor.com and search for Things Remembered. You’ll see all of your options for earning points or cash. If you value airline miles more, then of course…shop through the appropriate portal. The steps will be almost identical to what I’ve outlined above. When you search for Things Remembered, you’ll initially see a one-line summary of options. On the far right, it will say “More…” Choose that link to expand to an example like this – look at all those options!

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So many rewards to choose from!

How much can I get for free?

In this example, you would get 7% back on your purchase. Isn’t that  easy? Our toasting flutes were over $100, and it was $6 to get one engraved. Pretty obviously, the 7% covered the engraving on one of the flutes. Why wouldn’t you use a portal for all of your shopping?Maybe you’re trying to accumulate Southwest Rapid Rewards miles for that trip to Aruba I mentioned. Here, your $100 purchase would earn you 500 Rapid Rewards points. Nice!

Now, consider how many event expenses you are going to accumulate online (or, just regular shopping, holiday gifts, whatever!) and think about how many rewards you’ll accumulate when you’re getting 5 miles per dollar or 7% back. It adds up quickly, so don’t underestimate the value of shopping portals!

Summary

Always consider whether an in-store purchase can be made online. Aside from opportunities to get free shipping or use discount codes, you can rack up cash back and rewards on almost every dollar you spend!Use cashbackmonitor.com for reward options.

If you’re signing up for topcashback, please use my referral link!

Rules of Engagement, #1 – The Credit Card Game

These rules are so important to being a budget savvy shopper (bride, groom, event planner – whatever!) that they’re getting high priority here at Unveiled Savings. Read all the way through to find out how to get a five night stay with airfare just for paying your event deposits!

Without further ado…

Universally Awesome Credit Cards

credit-card-851506_1280

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably received invitations to sign up for new credit cards by mail, been offered a stadium blanket when you get your college’s card, or heard about some limited time offer from an airline. Truth is, there are dozens of excellent offers out there, yours for the taking. Later, I’ll discuss in detail the pros and cons of opening credit cards, but for now I just want to highlight how this can work for you.

Assuming you intend to charge wedding (or other event) expenses, you can receive a round trip flight for almost any charge that exceeds $1,000. What?! Yes, that honeymoon doesn’t have to be your first major expense as Mr. and Mrs.! Here are my top recommendations, but I encourage you to contact me directly prior to opening a card; often, there are better deals – or, at the very least, I can provide you with a referral link which helps me earn free trips, too. And I do love a free trip!

  1. Chase Sapphire Preferred: although this card comes with an annual fee of about $100, if you are going to spend $4,000, you can get 40,000 points in return. These points are worth at least $400, but are better used toward airfare – they can be worth over $1,000 at that point, perhaps as a round trip flight for a pair of travelers! This is my go-to card, which I’ve had for years and use for any expense that doesn’t fall under a category bonus or sign up bonus.
  2. Chase Freedom: if you are not a big spender (although, with wedding planning…it is largely unavoidable) you can get a $100 statement credit by spending only $500 on this card. Or, if you’ve also got the Sapphire card, those dollars can be used for airfare. Of course, I’ll elaborate more on this in a future post.
  3. Discover It: this card allows you to take advantage of the very generous Shop Discover (now Discover Deals) portal, which is where I plan on sending you for major rewards on your flowers, etc!
  4. The card that goes with your favorite travel chain: if you’re a loyal Hilton, Marriott, Sheraton, United, Delta, or Southwest patron, there is a card for you – we just need to find it! I have taken advantage of so many offers and enjoyed many free flights and nights, just by getting the right credit card.

Maximizing Miles Earned

Keep in mind that many cards offer revolving bonuses of 5%. For example, Discover might offer 5% back at gas stations. Now, be creative – instead of just buying gas at the gas station, stop in and consider buying gift cards for places you shop, such as the grocery store, department store…this is a great way to get 5% on more of your purchases, and will also help you meet a spending requirement. If you need to spend $4,000, and that far exceeds your monthly expenses, consider buying gift cards to use in the future – as long as you’re able to pay the credit card bill at the end of the month without accumulating interest, this will be a great way for you to earn a ton of miles!

Proving My Point – 5 Nights Plus Airfare in Aruba

 

six-senses-laamu-673440_1280

Assume the following:

  1. $2,000 photographer
  2. $750 dress
  3. $500 DJ
  4. $1,000 florist bill
  5. $2,000 venue deposit
  6. $2,000 caterer deposit

That’s $8,250. Ugh!

Maybe your dream destination is Aruba – there’s a fancy Marriott there, and you want to spend five nights for free. A round trip flight from Baltimore to Aruba is only about 24,000 points on Southwest, or 48,000 for a couple. Here’s how you can get that done:

Assume you were to open the Chase Sapphire Preferred card – remember that it has a spend requirement of $4,000 in the first couple months. Done! Your reward? 40,000 miles, plus 4,000 miles for the $4,000 you spent earning one mile per dollar. Still $4,250 to go…

That Chase Freedom card only requires $1,000 spend in three months, and the reward is 10,000 points. If you’ve also got the Sapphire card, you can combine the points. You’re at 55,000 points, and your airfare is free! Done! Still $3,250…

Ritz Carlton (a Marriott partner) happens to offer a card with enough points for a 5 night stay after $3,000 spend. Perfect!

Check it out, folks. You already had to spend over $8,000 in just a few months. But, now you’re getting free airfare and a five night stay in Aruba…for nothing more than taxes and fees!

Convinced? Leave a comment or send me a message if you need some help with your particular dream getaway!