If you want to travel, should you go for points and miles or for cashback?

Yes, yes, I know the answer is “both”. But bear with me for a moment.

Shawn at Miles to Memories has a nice rundown of the new $300 gift cards at Staples. He’s got a section where he lays out how much it will cost for a night at a Hyatt:

  • Category 1 – 5,000 points – $29 in fees with $300 cards.
  • Category 3 – 12,000 points – $69.60 in fees with $300 cards.
  • Category 5 – 20,000 points – $116 in fees with $300 cards.
  • Category 7 – 30,000 points – $174 in fees with $300 cards.

That’s a helpful way of looking at it. It’s easy to engage in mental sleight-of-hand and say to yourself, “The fees are 3% but I’m getting 5 points per dollar, and those points are worth two cents each, so I’m actually making 7%!” Well, you are and you aren’t. [click to continue…]

10% off (almost) everything at Best Buy

This showed up in my inbox a few days ago:

best buy 10 percent

10% back! Not too shabby. Keep in mind, though, that you won’t get 10% back on gift card purchases. If you recall, it was a 10% promotion that got that loophole shut down last year when too many people signed up for the Best Buy card and jumped on that deal.

I actually tested this a few months ago to see if anything had changed and yes, bonus points are still not being awarded on either Visas or retail gift cards. However: you do get base points, which work are 2% of your purchase. The fees on Visa cards are 3%, so that’s a money-loser, but if you have a Citi card with a 5% bonus on electronics, this would be a good way to max out your deal.

Best Buy also periodically runs other point multiplier promos, such as this one which is still going on:

best buy 5x lg

5X points is the equivalent of 10% back since each Best Buy point is worth 2%. So you’d be getting 10% back on your stove, plus an additional 8% back if you use a Best Buy credit card. That’s not too bad if it’s a purchase you were going to make anyway. If you have the credit card and you’re into reselling, I’d keep an eye on Best Buy promos through the end of the month in case anything pops up.

In other retail news, Toys R Us is running an October promotion for their cardholders as well:

toys r us october promotion

That’s a 3-4% bonus. The TRU card only pays 1% for purchases outside the store (vs. 8% for store purchases), so that makes this a 4-5% card for spending up to that $350 cap. If you have a Toys R Us near you and some toys to buy this year, then it’s a decent deal. Otherwise, you’re not missing out on much.

Stash Hotel Rewards rolls out new credit card

stash card

There’s a somewhat obscure hotel rewards program you may not be familiar with (I barely recalled seeing it in the Loyalty Traveler blog) that just introduced a new credit card. The program is Stash Hotel Rewards, and it positions itself as a program for boutique hotels. (I’ve stayed at one of them somewhat recently, the Park South in Manhattan, which was very nice.) You earn five points per dollar spent in the rewards program.

The new credit card is the Stash Hotel Rewards Visa, issued by Synchrony. The essential details:

  • 10,000-point sign-up bonus after $1,500 in purchases
  • 10% point refund when redeeming
  • 3 points per dollar at Stash hotels
  • 2 points per dollar at non-Stash hotels
  • 2 points per dollar for dining and gas
  • $85 annual fee (waived the first year)

So how much are Stash points worth, you ask? Good question. Stash’s website describes it thus: “No annoying blackout dates and no expiration dates. Unlike the chains, our redemption rates are dynamic so you can score great deals.” That sounds promising, so let’s take a look at a few properties. We’ll start with the aforementioned Park South for Saturday, October 10. I get a rate of 31,192 points (plus 3,000 additional points per person) vs. a rate of  $382 if I’m paying the regular way.

Let’s try the Restoration on King, a Charleston hotel I carefully selected at random from Stash’s website. Looking at rates for Monday, October 19, we see rates starting at 29,238 points vs. rates starting at $459 using cash.

So it’s certainly possible to get more than one cent per point of value from Stash points, and with the 10% refund bonus the value goes that much higher. Is this credit card worth a try?

Unless you’re a Stash loyalist, I don’t see much value here. 2-3% back on dining, gas, and hotels plus 1 -1.5% back on everything else isn’t bad, but it doesn’t justify an $85 annual fee. And 10,000 points doesn’t motivate me to try this one out. One notable feature lacking on this card is status, which is understandable given that Stash doesn’t offer Gold, Platinum, etc. as do the big chains. But an $85 annual fee is a lot easier to swallow if there’s a prospect of the occasional room upgrade.

So I won’t be signing up for the Stash card. Would any of you bite on this one?

Wawa launches credit card, causing everybody outside the mid-Atlantic states to ask, “What the heck is Wawa?”

As if the excitement over yesterday’s Container Store credit card news wasn’t enough, there’s another new credit card to report: Here comes Wawa!

To those of you who don’t live in its footprint, Wawa is a convenience store / gas station chain in the mid-Atlantic and Florida. If you’re curious about the name: according to their website, “‘Wawa’ is a Native American word for the Canada Goose that was found in the Delaware Valley over 100 years ago.” I grew up near Philadelphia, so Wawa’s “We do it just a little bit better” jingle is indelibly etched into my mind along with the Tastykake song. (Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastycake.)

The new card is nothing special. It’s a store card, so no purchases outside of Wawa. The card offers 25 cents per gallon rebates for the first two months and 5 cents per gallon thereafter. The maximum rebatable amount of gas is 100 gallons per month, so it’s $50 if you max out the intro promotion. I really can’t see much rationale to anybody having this thing.

What’s interesting is that the card isn’t being issued by Comenity or Synchrony but by Citi Retail Services, the private label credit card arm of Citibank. Everybody’s familiar with Citi’s credit card bounce-back this year, but their private label business is also making moves as they recently acquired the Brooks Brothers portfolio. Citi is building up quite a portfolio of retail credit cards. They now have the Best Buy card and they’re taking over the Costco card as well. If you’re a retailer, it’s a good time to either launch a card or shop for a new issuer for your existing card.

Should bloggers accept free stuff? Sure, what the heck.

Frequent Miler recently experienced a dilemma over whether to accept a free rental from Silvercar:

Ultimately, my decision had less to do with ethics or the desire to remain unbiased than a fierce determination to keep 100% control over my content.  This situation introduced a very small requirement: write something about my experience.  That sounds simple enough.  But, maybe I’ll rent the car and there won’t be anything interesting to write about. What then?  I simply did not want that hanging over me.

As that excerpt indicates, there are logistical as well as ethical considerations to accepting freebies. My time and energy are limited at this point in my life, what with a full-time job, a part-time job (this blog and related hobby activities), and several kids, so I don’t even know if I’d have the bandwidth to accept a free trip (for example), as it’s hard enough just to use the points I already have. The last time we tried a one-night trip to a location 90 minutes away, we had three kids come down with ear infections.

Fortunately I never have many ethical issues to deal with as a blogger since companies never offer me anything, possibly because of things like this, and possibly because not many people read this blog (only the best and brightest, right folks?). But I don’t really care if Frequent Miler or anybody else accepts giveaways; I’m more concerned as to whether somebody crosses the line from blogging to shilling, and regardless of how hard you try, it can be difficult to resist the corruption that money sometimes brings.

I recently called out One Mile At A Time for what I felt was an example of letting money sway his opinion of certain financial products. I do think that there are systemic issues with credit card marketing, and I do think that holding bloggers accountable (yo TBB!) helps keep the general level of nonsense lower than it otherwise would be.

But I don’t think he’s a bad guy or a bad blogger, though. I think he’s human. This is far from the only industry where conflicts abound, and you’ll see conflicts of interest in many other places if you take a look. Marketing dollars can sway doctors’ choices in prescribing drugs. Coca-Cola has been paying for scientific research it can use to downplay the effect of its drinks on health (in related news, half the nation is now diabetic or pre-diabetic). There are mild conflicts of interest for real estate agents. And so forth and so on.

The point is, take everything with a grain of salt, including everything in this blog. Maybe I’m just pointing out ethical issues to make myself look better by comparison as part of a complicated long con. Who knows? Bullshit abounds.

If you’re a blogger, it’s okay to get compensated. Accept a free car rental / hotel room / whatever, just be honest about it, even to the point of acknowledging that the freebie may influence your coverage, though of course you should try not to let it. Ideally you’d avoid all conflicts of interest, but some of you do this as a full-time job, and bloggers gotta eat. I have a full-time job that has nothing to do with blogging so it’s easy to for me to eschew entanglements, but it’s not so easy when it’s your livelihood.

If you’re a commenter, call us out on conflicts of interest, but try to do so in a reasonable way. (Note: beginning a sentence with “You bloggers” decreases your chances of being listened to by said bloggers.)

And if you’re just a reader, pay attention to financial incentives, follow the money, and caveat emptor.