October 30, 2016

Points Costs When Redeeming American Express Membership Rewards for Merchant Gift Cards

I signed up for an American Express Premier Rewards Gold card recently to get the sign up points.

Their Membership Rewards program has various ways to redeem your points.   One option is to get gift cards from a variety of merchants.   The redemption varies from around 0.7¢ to 1¢ per point.    Theres no simple way to get a complete list on the Amex site and you have to click on each merchant to see the dollar value.   So I created a table for reference.

Most cards have multiple redemption options such as options to get $25, $50 or $100 gift cards.  I'm only listing the minimum redemption option and the higher value cards are just multiples.    Note Mercedes Benz offers maintenance and some movie theatres offer movie tickets  Those gift cards have variable dollar value and I estimated typical market value

Keep in mind : The table below is going to change over time and I don't plan to update it.  

Here are the gift card choices and the dollar value / point spent.   (I haven't listed some theme parks and snow lodges)

points card value value/points
Aria hotel 10000 $100 $0.0100
Bellagio hotel 10000 $100 $0.0100
Best Western Hotels 5882 $50 $0.0085
Delta airlines 7143 $50 $0.0070
Fairmont hotel 50000 $50 $0.0010
Four Seasons 14286 $100 $0.0070
Hilton 3571 $25 $0.0070
Hotels.com 7143 $50 $0.0070
Hyatt 5000 $50 $0.0100
Mandalay Bay 10000 $100 $0.0100
Mandarin Oriental 5882 $50 $0.0085
Marriott 7143 $50 $0.0070
MGM Grand 10000 $100 $0.0100
MGM Resorts 10000 $100 $0.0100
Ritz Carlton 14286 $100 $0.0070
Amtrak 5000 $50 $0.0100
Avis 5000 $50 $0.0100
Enterprise 5000 $50 $0.0100
Hertz 5000 $50 $0.0100
Mercedez Benz 100000 $1,000 $0.0100
Mercedez Benz service A 26000 service A $0.0077
Mercedez Benz service B 58000 service B $0.0100
Benihana 5000 $50 $0.0100
Bonefish Grill 2500 $25 $0.0100
California Pizza Kitchen 2500 $25 $0.0100
Chilis 2500 $25 $0.0100
Flemings Prime Steakhouse 5000 $50 $0.0100
Legal Sea Foods 5000 $50 $0.0100
Lettuce Entertain you 5000 $50 $0.0100
Maggiano's Little Italy 2500 $25 $0.0100
Morton's The Steakhouse 10000 $100 $0.0100
OpenTable 3751 $25 $0.0067
PF Changs 2500 $25 $0.0100
Ruth's Chris 5000 $50 $0.0100
Seamless.com 1000 $10 $0.0100
Seasons 52 5000 $50 $0.0100
Starbucks card 3571 $25 $0.0070
The Capital Grille 5000 $50 $0.0100
The Cheesecake Factory 2941 $25 $0.0085
AMC 1200 1 ticket $0.0083
Cinemark 1125 1 ticket $0.0089
Facebook games 588 $5 $0.0085
Regal 1200 1 ticket $0.0083
Showcase cinemas 3600 2 ticket + consession $0.0028
Athleta 2500 $25 $0.0100
Banana Republic 2500 $25 $0.0100
Barnes & Noble 5000 $50 $0.0100
Bath & Body works 1000 $10 $0.0100
Bergdorf Goodman 5000 $50 $0.0100
Brooks Brothers 5000 $50 $0.0100
Coach 5000 $50 $0.0100
Cole Haan 5000 $50 $0.0100
Crate and Barrel 5000 $50 $0.0100
Gap 1000 $10 $0.0100
Gap Brands 2500 $25 $0.0100
Groupon 1500 $15 $0.0100
Intermix 5000 $50 $0.0100
itunes 1176 $10 $0.0085
J Crew 5000 $50 $0.0100
Neiman Marcus 5000 $50 $0.0100
Nike 2500 $25 $0.0100
Old Navy 1000 $10 $0.0100
PB Teen 5000 $50 $0.0100
Pottery Barn 5000 $50 $0.0100
Pottery Barn Kids 5000 $50 $0.0100
Ralph Lauren 5000 $50 $0.0100
REI 5000 $50 $0.0100
Restoration hardware 5000 $50 $0.0100
Saks Fifth Avenue 5000 $50 $0.0100
Spafinder 2500 $25 $0.0100
Staples 2500 $25 $0.0100
Target 7143 $50 $0.0070
The Home Depot 2500 $25 $0.0100
Tiffany & Co 25000 $250 $0.0100
Victorias secret 2500 $25 $0.0100
west elm 5000 $50 $0.0100
Williams-Sonoma 5000 $50 $0.0100
Zappos.com 5000 $50 $0.0100


October 28, 2016

Best of Blogs for Week of October 28th

Every Friday afternoon I share some of the more interesting or notable posts that I have seen in the personal finance blogs and other sources for the past week

MyMoneyBlog has a nice List of Cheap Basic Cell Phone Plans on Every Network – From $1.25 a Month

MMB also discusses Consumer Report Car Brand Reliability Rankings 2016

Dough Roller tells us about Variable Annuities: What They Are and Why They’re a Bad Idea for Most Investors

October 27, 2016

$20 off $20+ at Shutterfly via Discover Deals (YMMV) - Shipping and Taxes apply

I'm seeing an offer in my Discover card account in the Discover Deals section for $20 off of a $20+ purchase at Shutterfly.    

To get the offer you have to log into Discover for your card and then go to the Discover Deals and find the Shutterfly offer.    The offer has a unique promo code.

However, as it seems with all Shutterfly deals nowadays you do have to pay the taxes, shipping and handling.    

I don't know if everyone gets the same offers so this may be YMMV.

Example purchase :  right now you can get 4.5"x5" photo magnets for $6.74.    3 of those would be $20.22 and with $7.97 shipping the pretax total is $8.19.  

Offer details:
Offer expires December 31, 2016 (11:59 P.M. PT). Discover card must be used for payment. Offer is good for $20 off one qualifying merchandise order of $20 or more (after select discounts and before taxes, shipping and handling) through shutterfly.com, our mobile-friendly site, or Shutterfly App. This promo will be applied to your order before any code-based %-off promos. Limit one $-off promo per order. Promo can only be redeemed once per account and/or billing address. This offer code can only be entered once. Taxes, shipping and handling will apply. Not valid on Make My Book services and fees, personalized postage stamps, prepaid, annual savings, and video plans, gift certificates, cards sent using mailing services, prior purchases, FavePix, TripPix, and orders placed for in-store pick up. Cannot be redeemed for cash or combined with select offers or credits. Not valid for resale. We reserve the right to modify or replace any part of these terms and conditions without notice.


October 26, 2016

Zillow Rental Comps for October 2016

I have been doing rental comps from Craigslist and Zillow.   The most recent was April 2016.
However right now I'm not able to get Craigslist to give me total numbers for the rentals listed on the map view with consistency and because of that its not practical to try and find medians in my old method.  So I'm just doing Zillow comps for now.

Here are the Zestimate figures :

Jan-16 $1,500 $1,400 $1,675
Apr-16 $1,600 $1,300 $1,750
Oct-16 $1,600 $1,450 $1,695

Zillow also tracks a range of rents with a low and high estimate.

here are the current figures including the low and high of the ranges:

Zillow min med max
A $1,500 $1,600 $1,900
B $1,200 $1,450 $1,600
E $1,600 $1,695 $1,800


October 23, 2016

Patience Wins the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

I was previously denied an application for a Chase Sapphire Preferred card.    I was humiliated and ashamed.  (not really)     But at the time I found out about Chases 5/24 rule for credit cards.   They deny you if you've applied for 5 cards in the past 24 months.     So I simply waited until I was past that and applied again.   My second application was approved.  

The card gives you 50,000 points bonus after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.    Thats a pretty hefty amount of money to spend in 3 months on one card, but we had a summer trip that helped get me to the total among other things.   I also tried to maximize my rewards by using other cards for 5% bonuses so I didn't put all our spending on this card.    I think I also got 5,000 points for adding my wife as an authorized user.   The spending on the card also tallies up points.

In total I ended up with 60,820 points which is good for $608.20 credit to my account.

I could also use the points to get 1.25 worth of travel or $760.25.    I plan to hold on to the points for as long as possible so I can get that 25% bonus on any travel expenses we might have.

On top of that I can also transfer the points over to airline programs on a 1-1 basis if I want to.  Southwest Rapid Rewards are one of the options.    If I needed to fly to Vegas I could book a flight for abut 7,500 rewards points plus $11 taxes.   Paying for the flight would be about $135.   That would be more like 1.67 cents per point.  

Unfortunately the card has a hefty annual fee so I'll cancel it before the year is up.

$608-$760 is a pretty great haul from one card.  


October 21, 2016

Best of Blogs for Week of October 21st

Every Friday afternoon I share some of the more interesting or notable posts that I have seen in the personal finance blogs and other sources for the past week

MyMoneyBlog discusses an interesting business idea with BuffetGo: Reduce Food Waste and Buy a Big Box of Leftovers for $3    however note its only at a few cities now.


October 20, 2016

FREE Finding Dory DVD at Walmart for New TopCashBack members

TopCashBack is offering a special cash back bonus for new members who buy Finding Dory DVD.

Follow this link for the deal 

Detail from TopCashBack:
"Visit Walmart through TopCashback, pre-order one Finding Dory DVD while it's priced at $19.96 and within seven days $21.95 cashback will post as pending in your TopCashback account. 

In-store pick-up, at one of Walmart's many stores, is free. Free shipping on the purchase is also an option! You choose! The movie will begin swimming its way through the mail from when its officially released: on Thursday, November 15, 2016. The $21.95 will cover the cost of the DVD and cover any sales tax you may possibly incur, effectively this popular under the sea adventure an amazing freebie. 

Join Dory, Nemo, and friends as they search the ocean blue for Dory's family in an adorable film that's perfect for the whole family! And with the holidays right around the corner, this is a great start to the holiday shopping. "

The deal is:
- open until 11:59pm PT on October 21, 2016 or supplies run out; whichever happens first
- available for pre-order while it's priced at $19.96; if the price changes, the deal's over
- subject to supplies, shipping, and pick-up availability
- applicable for purchases made directly after clicking through TopCashback
Only one:- Pre-ordered Finding Dory DVD is eligible for $21.95 cashback per TopCashback account  TopCashback account is permitted per member

Keep in mind this is only for new TopCashBack members.

I do get a referral commission if you use my link, thanks.

--This article may contain referral links which pay this site a commission for purchases made at the sites.

October 19, 2016

Using Zillow to Measure Rental Demand

Our local rental market is pretty hot right now.   But I wouldn't necessarily realize that if I didn't list a property for rent and then get a flood of applicants.    I've found one way you can get a measure of the kind of rental demand you might see for a property using a figure Zillow estimates.   The figure is called the 'rental views' and is their estimate of the number of people who will view a rental ad for the property in question.   Here is how to find their 'rental views':

1. Log into Zillow.  If you don't have an account you'll need to make one.
2. Find your property and claim it as yours if you haven't already.
3. Then when you open the property you'll get the 'Owners view' initially by default rather than the standard 'Public view'
5. If you scroll down on the owners view there is a bit with some info on selling your home.   There you will find forecasts on the number of views of the home that Zillow expects you'd get if you listed it for sale or put it up for rent.    It looks like this :

That number in the middle there 220 is the number we're looking for.

Not all properties have this number and I'm not entirely sure why some do and some don't.    I have another property that has a 'rental views' estimate over 1000.    Thats the hottest market I've got a rental in and when I list that property for rent I have to screen dozens and dozens of people.      The rental with 220 is still pretty good demand market but not nearly as hot.


October 16, 2016

Q2 2016 Rental Vacancy Rates by City

The US Census tracks rental vacancy rates in major metropolitan areas.  

Note the margin of error is pretty high.   On that they say:

"1. A margin of error is a measure of an estimate’s reliability. The larger the margin of error in relation to the size of the estimate, the less reliable the estimate. This number, when added to and subtracted from the estimate, forms the 90 percent confidence interval. "

So then I read that to mean that for Akron with a vacancy rate of 10.9 and a margin of error of 10.9 that they say they have a 90% confidence that the vacancy rate is 0 - 21.8%.      Thats kind of meaningless.   But for other markets the range is a lot more narrow.   For example Boston is 3.4% with a margin of error of +/- 1.6% so they have 90% confidence the vacancy rate is 1.8% - 5%.

Here is a big list :
Metropolitan Statistical Area Second         Quarter       2016 Margin of Error
Akron, OH  10.9 10.9
Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY . 3.3 4.6
Albuquerque, NM... 5.9 3.3
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ.. 2.6 4.9
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA\1 7.6 2.8
Austin-Round Rock, TX. 4.9 3.6
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD\2. 6.6 4.1
Baton Rouge, LA 6.4 4.4
Birmingham-Hoover, AL.. 14.4 6.6
Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH\3... 3.4 1.6
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT. 8.7 6.7
Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY\4... 10.9 6.4
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL... 7.4 9.7
Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville, SC 15.8 8.6
Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC\5... 6.9 4.5
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI\6 5.3 1.8
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN\7 9.5 5.4
Cleveland-Elyria, OH\8.. 6.8 4.4
Columbia, SC 3.7 4.3
Columbus, OH 5.6 3.8
Dallas-Ft. Worth-Arlington, TX... 5.7 2.1
Dayton, OH... 5.8 7.4
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO\9... 5.2 3.2
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI\10 7.0 3.4
Fresno, CA 0.0 0.0
Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI 3.5 5.6
Greensboro-High Point, NC 19.9 11.6
Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 5.7 4.8
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX\11 8.2 2.7
Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN\12. 6.2 4.2
Jacksonville, FL.. 7.2 5.0
Kansas City, MO-KS. 12.1 5.4
Knoxville, TN. 5.8 5.7
Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV\13.. 9.3 3.0
Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR.. 11.3 5.5
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA\14... 3.2 1.1
Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN\15.. 6.6 5.1
Memphis, TN-AR-MS. 8.4 4.9
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL\16 6.8 2.5
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 5.5 4.1
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI ... 5.2 3.3
Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN\17 4.5 3.4
New Haven-Milford, CT.. 6.8 5.5
New Orleans-Metairie, LA.\18 11.4 4.4
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA\19... 4.9 1.1
North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota, FL... 16.8 14.7
Oklahoma City, OK. 11.2 5.0
Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA 3.9 3.3
Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL\20 7.6 4.1
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD\21 . 5.9 2.6
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ... 6.0 2.8
Pittsburgh, PA. 7.7 4.8
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA\22.. 4.9 2.7
Providence-Warwick, RI-MA\23. 2.5 1.4
Raleigh, NC\24 4.4 5.0
Richmond, VA. 4.4 4.6
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA.. 6.0 3.0
Rochester, NY... 3.5 4.5
Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA\25 8.2 4.5
St. Louis, MO-IL.. 5.5 3.4
Salt Lake City, UT 5.6 3.8
San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX\26... 7.2 4.1
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA\27. 1.4 1.5
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA\28 3.1 1.9
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA... 4.2 3.3
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 2.7 1.9
Syracuse, NY 6.6 7.4
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL.. 5.9 3.3
Toledo, OH 5.7 7.1
Tucson, AZ .. 11.5 6.9
Tulsa, OK 4.7 4.4
Urban Honolulu, HI\29.. 10.1 3.4
Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC\30... 5.2 4.1
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV.. 5.5 2.4
Worcester, MA. 3.2 3.8


October 3, 2016

FREE - 2 Bags of Milky Way fun Size Candy at Walmart for NEW TopCashBack members 10/3 & 10/4

Right now NEW members of TopCashBack can get two bags of Milky Way fun size candy for free after cash back.

The offer from TopCashBack:
Visit Walmart through TopCashback, purchase a bundle of Milky Way milk chocolate fun size candy bags priced at $9.44 and within seven days $9.44 cashback will post in your TopCashback account. 

Follow this link to get the deal

Details :
- open until 11:59pm PT on October 04, 2016 or supplies run out; whichever happens first
- available while it's priced at $9.44; if the price changes, the deal's over
- subject to supplies and pick-up availability
- applicable for purchases made directly after clicking through TopCashback

I do get a referral bonus from TopCashBack if you sign up with my link.     So please do use my link, I'd appreciate it.

--This article may contain referral links which pay this site a commission for purchases made at the sites.

October 2, 2016

What is the Best Value in a Hotel Club Rewards Credit Card?

Recently The Simple Dollar discussed Guaranteed Getaway: Credit Cards That Offer a Free Hotel Stay Each Year    In that they listed 4 different rewards cards for hotels chains.  
Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card,
Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card,
Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card, and
IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card

(hey if you want to sign up for any of these cars follow the link to The Simple Dollar article and use their links, that way TSD will get a commission,  I get NO commissions myself )

I've got the IHG card already and its a good card.   In addition to earning over 50k points with IHG during my sign up, I also get a free hotel room every year for the $49 annual card fee.     To figure what card is a good value you have to look at the rewards given, the points cost of hotel stays and the costs of the card.   

Here is my break down of the value for all 4 cards : 

annual fee
$75 $85 $75 $49
Sign up
2 nights
80,000 85,000 60,000
$2,500 $3,500 $2,500 $1,000
bonus value
$175 $445 $330 $430
1 night
1 night
1 night
Spend an
$10,000 $0 $0 $0
points /$
3 1 5 2
pts /night
20,000 20,000 28,000 20,000
annual value
 $      100
 $         65
 $     139
 $     101
pt value
2.3% 0.8% 2.7% 1.5%

NOTE :   This is based on some assumptions in nature of hotel, cost of hotel rooms and YMMV.

To explain all the parts of that table see below:

annual fee:  You have to pay for these cards.  IHG waives the annual fee the first year but the others dont.
sign up :   When you sign up the cars give you a bonus.   Hilton gives you 2 free nights but the others give a pile of points.
spend for sign up:   This is the amount you have to spend to get the sign up points.  
bonus value:   This is what I figure the cost of your bonus sign up is in total.   I include the cost of hotel rooms at the standard pts/night rate and value a night stay at $150.    I subtract the annual fee and the amount you'd get if instead receiving 2% cash back on the amount spent to qualify for the bonus.
Annual : This is your annual reward for the card.   Most give you a free night stay and Carlson gives 40,000 points.   The HHonors card requires you to spend $10,000 to get the free night.  
Status:   The cards ensure an elite status level varying from silver to platinum.
points / $ :  this is how many points you earn on normal purchases.   For IHG you get 2 points for gas, restaurant and grocery which is easy to get
pts/night:   This is now many points it costs to get what I consider a standard hotel room in a reasonable location.   Its actually the amount of points I'd have to spend for a night in places I'd want to go.  YMMV on this cost since you might spend less staying in a cheap area or more in some place like London or NYC.
annual value:  This is the value in keeping the card if you value your free night less the anual fee
pt value :   this is what I'd consider the dollar value return on points earned if used towards hotel rooms at a average $150 cost.

Overall I think the Marriott and IHG cards are the best total value and IHG is the overall winner in my book.  

Your own value will depend on how you might use the rewards.    You should check what it costs in points for specific hotels you'd be likely to book and compare to the $ cost of those hotels.   Personally I wouldn't get much out of the Carlson card because they don't have a lot of hotels in places I'd routinely visit.    All the cards have good ongoing value if you use the free night.   The Hilton card does require you to spend $10,000 a year for the free night so thats a hefty obligation, but if you do you get good points and return on it.


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