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The hills are alive with the sound of increased credit card rewards!

SoundOfMusic

Things are looking up for credit card aficionados! Consider:

  • According to Cardhub, card sign-up bonuses increased 5% in the second quarter. Interestingly, the article notes, “And some consumers have likely learned over the years how difficult it can be to actually use the rewards that credit card companies dangle in front of themSuch restrictions are part of the reason that a third of all credit card loyalty awards dispensed each year are never redeemed.”
  • The Cardhub study also notes that bonuses are up 10% year-over-year.
  • Citibank is adding airline transfer partners! See Miles Professor for more. Hopefully Citibank will introduce some new options for earning ThankYou Points as well.
  • My wife just got her 50,000-point Fifth Third card.
  • A friend of mine just received two solid targeted sign-up offers: Capital One Spark ($500 cash back with a $4,500 spend) as well as the 150,000-point Amex Platinum offer shown below. It’s $10K for the first 100,000 points, plus $10K more for the next 50,000. It’s a lot of spending but 150K MRs is good compensation.

amex platinum 150k

 

EDIT: I’ve also added in a scan of the Spark offer.

cap one spark 500

This is what half a million points achieved for us

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In terms of point redemption, it’s been a pretty busy four months for the PFD household, with our accounts diminished by over 500,000 points and miles. I’m going to go through what we spent our points on–not for the sake of bragging but to show what this hobby can do for a family.

AIR TRAVEL: 10 INTERNATIONAL TICKETS / 325,000 POINTS

We had another kid last fall and with the three other young ‘uns we already have, we don’t have much of an appetite for big trips right now. So why not bring the world to our door? My wife is from Nicaragua, and she has siblings there she doesn’t get to see as often as she likes. So in April we cashed in 150,000 Avios to bring her brother and his family for a visit, and this week we cashed in 175,000 Avios to bring her sister and her sister’s family up here.

That’s a total of 10 international tickets–all coach, of course. Nobody will enjoy a first class lounge, but my wife gets to hang out with her siblings, my kids get to hang out with their cousins and practice their Spanish, and the relatives get a rare chance to travel abroad. I didn’t have to use any fancy booking tricks, either (though I almost had to with the second trip); they were both straightforward Avios redemptions. The Avios came from a combination of British Airways credit card miles, Amex MR points, and Ultimate Reward points.

HOTELS: 20 NIGHTS / 220,000 POINTS

I recently wrote about our trip to Atlanta–12 nights’ worth of suites for only 60,000 Hyatt points, a tremendous value. Besides that we had three rooms for a night in Columbia, SC during my brother-in-law’s visit (84,000 Club Carlson points left over from a promo a couple of years ago), a couple of nights in Miami for my brother-in-law’s family (16,000 Hyatt points courtesy of Ultimate Rewards), and next week we’ve got three rooms for a night in Asheville, NC (60,000 Priority Club points earned from a sign-up bonus and promos) for our families.

By my standards, half a million is a pretty high burn rate for four months. But then, the next big trip on the horizon for us is a trip to Nicaragua in about  a year and a half, so we won’t be burning too many more points in the immediate future. And we’ve enabled a lot of memories and connections that would have been a lot more difficult if not for points and miles.

And that, my friends, is how we’re traveling and why. Have a great weekend!

Demon customers: why big companies let us run amok

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A running theme in the worlds of deal seeking and points & miles accumulation is, Why do they keep letting us do this? You’ll often hear the word “stupid” thrown around, as in I can’t believe they’re stupid enough to offer this ridiculously good deal over and over again.

Companies aren’t stupid, but they may indeed be poorly managed, and bad management is what lets customers like us thrive. Here are a few causes of great deals for customers:

Focus on the wrong metricsThose of you who haven’t spent time in corporate America may be surprised to find out that “profits” are surprisingly low on the priority list for many executives. They are instead concerned with things like revenue growth and customer acquisition. The thinking goes like this: we make $X per customer, so if we acquire another 100 customers, we’ll make an extra $100X per year. Or maybe the customers have an expected lifetime value of $Y, so the market value of the company will increase by $Y, so execs will be able to cash out those stock options sooner rather than later.

One flaw in this thinking lies in the fact that the most customers weren’t attracted to the business by too-good-to-be-true offers. If they were, you wouldn’t be making $X per customer or valuing them at $Y.

Improper incentives: Related to the wrong metrics problem, this occurs when you reward people for doing things which are detrimental to the business. Organizationally, this can happen at a high level, such as when you give somebody ownership of a credit card portfolio and judge them solely on the number of new accounts opened (this is my theory about what caused the Chase AARP debacle several years back), or at a low-level, such as when you give underpaid, undertrained front-line sales staff strict sales quotas. In either case, risk, profitability, and customer satisfaction metrics will be neglected with predictable results.

Bad systems: If you’re a mass market retailer or bank and you want to prevent people from doing something (for example, buying cash equivalents with your company’s gift cards), you’ll get much better results by having your systems prevent transactions instead of your employees. Management generally knows this, so why don’t they do it? First of all, systems changes are a pain in the butt. It takes time and money to make even simple changes and understandably managers aren’t inclined to fight these battles unless they have to. Secondly, even if there is a system in place the system will often have loopholes and overrides put in place to allow flexibility. No system is 100% secure–this is true both in computer security as well as in retail processes.

Bad training: Have you ever met an employee who didn’t know how to ring up a Vanilla Reload or any other prepaid product? Have you ever met an employee who wasn’t sure whether or not they were allowed to let you use a credit card to buy prepaids?

Unmotivated front-line employees: If you don’t have good systems in place, you need to rely on your employees to look out for you. In theory, that’s somewhat difficult but achievable. In practice, here’s the value proposition: “We’re going to offer you $8 per hour, no job security, lousy hours, and little hope for advancement. Oh, and also we want you take ownership of complex problems and high-value transactions.” What could possibly go wrong?

Slow flow of informationBad management tends to slow the flow of information, since employees may learn that saying the “wrong” things or passing along the “wrong” results will get them in trouble. Or maybe they’ve learned the company is big and inflexible enough that speaking up won’t change a darn thing. Customers taking advantage of us? Not my problem, I’m not getting involved!

Desperation: Sometimes a company that’s doing poorly will offer amazing deals to get some traffic through the door, because having your marketing department think up creative way to give stuff away for free is much easier than managing the company well and figuring out how to reform a badly outdated business model. I’m looking at you, Sears.

Corporate dysfunction–make it work for you!

Town squares, sugar water, and dinosaurs: the rest of the Atlanta trip

As I mentioned in my last two posts, my family and I spent a week in Atlanta, the goal being an affordable, fun vacation away from home. For the most part, it was a success. As I mentioned here, we got a few thousand dollars of free hotel rooms for only 60,000 points. I covered the Georgia Aquarium here. Beyond that, here’s what else we did–and no, there are no first class lounges, no first class meals, and no fine dining to report on. Just middle class family fun, thank you very much.

* We spent a Sunday afternoon in the town of Marietta since it was pretty close to our hotel, and I recommend it if you have kids, or if you just like towns like this. It’s got a nice historic town square, some low-key touristy shops, and of course multiple places to buy ice cream.

Marietta town square

Marietta town square

* We hit the Coke Museum on the grounds that the kids (not to mention Mrs. PFD) would love the infamous tasting room, where they have unlimited free samples of sodas from all over the world, and in fact they did love it. My older son’s reaction to the Coke Museum tasting room: “China has the BEST sodas!!!!”

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My son prepares to learn Coke’s secret formula. (The formula turned out to be “marketing and sugar water”.)

* The Fernbank Museum of Natural History is really good and was the least-crowded tourist attraction we visited, and the kids liked it at least as much as anything else we did on the trip. Seeing dinosaur skeletons is always fun, yes? I highly recommend this one if you’re in town with kids, or if you just like science museums.

* I like the CNN tour, but I would recommend you think twice if you have babies or senior citizens, as it is not handicap / stroller-friendly. There are a lot of stairs involved.

* I prevented a drowning while at the hotel pool when my son wandered into an area that was too deep for him. If you haven’t already please read this very important article on what drownings look like. They do NOT involve somebody thrashing around while screaming “Help!”, and having read this article before I recognized that my son was in trouble so I got to him very quickly, no harm done.

* We spent one full day where we did absolutely nothing other than goof off and go out to a mall food court for lunch. That was a good day! There’s a lot to be said for doing nothing.