Recently, Chase switched the IHG Rewards Visa to a Mastercard.  I had applied for the Visa version in December 2013 and received an 80,000 points bonus after $1000 spend.  I promptly received an email from Chase saying the switch would be made.

Many people cancelled their Visa card before the switch with the hopes that they could get the bonus again with the mastercard.  I chose not to do that as I felt it was too soon since I had just opened that card.

However, there is a still an 80,000 point offer for the new IHG Rewards Mastercard.  There are a few ways to get the offer:

1) You can watch this video after entering your IHG Rewards number, PIN, and promotion code PGFTNHNAD3 or SAMPN3YAA39 (HT: Flyertalk).  If you are targeted, you may see the 80,000 points offer.   If you are not targeted, you may see 60,000 points offer.  After watching the video, you will also receive 1000 IHG Rewards points if you haven’t in the past.  Here is the offer I saw after the video:

IHG rewards club mastercard 80000 points Chase IHG Rewards Mastercard offer for 80,000 points still available

2) If you don’t care to go that route, you can use this direct link to the offer.  This is the link that I got when I clicked on the offer at the end of the video.  The landing page doesn’t show 80,000 points, but this is how the visa offer was in the past.

3) Last option: You could apply for the regular offer of 60,000 points and then ask Chase to see if they can match the 80,000 offer.  Chase is usually pretty good at matching offers within the first 90 days.  You could use the above image as evidence if you like.   In addition, there is also a 60,000 point offer with $50 statement credit after 1st purchase.

It comes with annual fee waived first year, $49 thereafter.  The 2 best benefits are the annual free night at any Intercontinental hotel in the world and the 10% rebate on point redemptions.  The benefits of the card are the same as the previous visa card.  As a result, I will keep this card forever or until they change the benefits.


Up until this year, I had always paid my taxes with a check.  I hated doing that since I wouldn’t earn miles in the process.  I knew that the IRS allows for payment of taxes with a credit card.  However, paying with a credit card would incur processing fees ranging from 1.87% – 2.35% depending on the credit card you use.  Normally, that’s not a wise decision as the fees pretty much negate any miles earned from a miles earning credit card.

This year, I decided to do something different.  I decided to pay part of my taxes with American Express Gift cards.  Recently, there was a 3% cash back on the purchase of American Express gift cards through topcashback.

amex gift card Success paying taxes with American Express Gift Cards

I ordered $5000 worth of gift cards on my Southwest Airlines Premier card. Shipping fees for the cards was $8.95.  Since the highest denomination gift card is $3000, I purchased that and an additional $2K gift card.  I couldn’t purchase more than $5K because that is the limit every 14 days.

I then decided to use to make my tax payments and use up both of my gift cards.  The process is pretty self explanatory.  Follow the prompts and proceed through the transaction like you would on any website.  They charge the lowest fee of 1.87% on American Express credit cards.  Since I had 2 different gift cards, I made 2 separate payments keeping in mind that I had to account for the fees.

On the $2000 card:
I made a payment of $1963.28. The 1.87% processing fee came out to $36.71. The total charged to the card was $1999.99. So I had 1 cent left on my gift card.

On the $3000 card:
I made a payment of $2944.92, a fee of $55.07 for a total of $2999.99.

Soon after the payment, I received confirmation of payment from payusatax.  You can also verify your payment on their website.

Just to be sure, I decided to check my Amex gift card balance and saw that each one had been appropriately charged.

amex gift card balance Success paying taxes with American Express Gift Cards

My takeaway from paying taxes with American Express gift cards:

  • 5009 Rapid Rewards points
  • $58.22 profit ($150 cash back from topcashback – $91.78 in Processing fees for taxes)

Things I learned when paying taxes with American Express gift cards:

  • There is no “hold” that is placed on the card.  If you have $3000 gift card, you can use the whole amount.
  • There are limits on how many payments you can make depending on the tax form you are filing.  For estimated taxes for the current year, it’s 2 payments a quarter.  However, if you are paying the balance due for past year’s taxes, it’s 2 payments a year.
  • You can see the payment amount and processing fees separately before confirming your payment, so you know exactly what you are paying.
  • I would recommend calling the customer service on the back of your card to register your name and address before using it online for a large amount.
  • I called customer service and was told it would actually take 5-7 days for the payment to post to the IRS, so I wouldn’t wait until the last day to do this.
  • I partially paid my taxes using the Amex gift cards.  I e-filed the remaining balance.  I would have loved to pay with more gift cards, but my impression was that I was limited to 2 payments.
  • It’s a good idea to verify your payment on both the payusatax website and also check the Amex gift card balance.
  • Clearly, this is a great way to earn miles from your credit card and make some money.  If you’ve never considered paying taxes this way, you should.

If you are looking to learn more about Amex gift cards, Miles Points and Mai Tais has a nice 411 on the topic.

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Just last week, I wrote about the Fidelity Amex that came with a $50 bonus.  Since then, there’s a better bonus of $75.  For a no annual fee card, it’s probably one of the very best cash back cards out there.  Although it’s a 2% cash back on everything, there is a way to extract more than 3% (with limitations or course).

With the Fidelity Amex, you earn 2 Worldpoints per dollar spent.  Those worldpoints can be redeemed once you login to the worldpoints portal through

So, if you spent $12,500 on the card, you would get 25,000 worldpoints which is equal to $250 when redeemed into a Fidelity account (a 2% return).  However, those 25,000 worldpoints can also be redeemed for airfare purchases.

2 different flight redemption options:

Worldpoints can be redeemed for 2 types of airfare rewards, the FlexAir award or the Premium Air Award.  The FlexAir award has no restrictions, but the redemption rate is the same as transferring the money into your Fidelity account (For 25,000 points, you can redeem any flight worth $250).  The Premium Air Award has restrictions, but presents an opportunity for arbitrage.

FlexAir vs. Premium Air Can the Fidelity Amex give more than a 3% value when used for travel?  Yes, it can!

The Premium Air Award has interesting redemption options.  For example, you can redeem a ticket worth $400 for 25,000 points within the 48 contiguous United States.

Premium Air redemption 1 Can the Fidelity Amex give more than a 3% value when used for travel?  Yes, it can! premium air redemption 2 Can the Fidelity Amex give more than a 3% value when used for travel?  Yes, it can!

At first glance, this looks fantastic.  You spend $12,500 on the card, get 25,000 worldpoints ($250) which can be redeemed for $400.  That’s equivalent to a 3.2% return, certainly more than the 2% if the points are deposited into Fidelity.

However, there is a $30 fee for booking a Premium Award which decreases the return.  With this fee, you are paying $280 to redeem a $400 ticket.  To have some fun with the math, I am going to say that $30 is equivalent to 3000 worldpoints which can be obtained by spending $1500 on the card.  What this means is that each award is really 3000 more points than what is listed.  For example, a $400 ticket is actually 28,000 points ($280 if redeemed into Fidelity), not 25,000 ($250).  I hope I am making sense here.

Calculating the true rate of return with the $30 booking fee taken into consideration:

Destination $ spent on card Points earned Redemption value Rate of return
Continental US $14,000 28000 $400 2.857%
Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico  $19,000  38000  $600  3.158%
 Alaska, Hawaii, Bermuda, Bahamas, Caribbean  $24,000  48000  $600  2.5%
Europe $31,500 63000 $800 2.54%


There are some key restrictions to book the Premium Air award:

  • Lowest economy fare available
  • 21 day advance purchase
  • Saturday night stay required
  • Stopovers of 4 hours or more are not allowed
  • Must be roundtrip

Premium Air Restrictions Can the Fidelity Amex give more than a 3% value when used for travel?  Yes, it can!

The test

I wanted to see if I could really get a $400 ticket for the 25,000 points plus the $30 fee.  I searched on Kayak for a ticket and found the following:

fia booking  Can the Fidelity Amex give more than a 3% value when used for travel?  Yes, it can!

I ran the same search on the Worldpoints booking engine and found the following:

worldpoints booking 1 Can the Fidelity Amex give more than a 3% value when used for travel?  Yes, it can!

You can see that Delta and United have the cheapest economy class available for the dates that I chose.  When I clicked on the Delta ticket, you can see that you really can book that ticket for 25,000 points + $30.

worldpoints booking 2 Can the Fidelity Amex give more than a 3% value when used for travel?  Yes, it can!

When you pick a ticket over $400 or one that is NOT the lowest available economy fare, the Premium Air Reward option does not appear:

worldpoints booking 4 Can the Fidelity Amex give more than a 3% value when used for travel?  Yes, it can!

How about a ticket to Canada, Mexico, or Caribbean?  According to my table above, you get greater than a 3% return if you can find a $600 ticket to those destinations.  Here’s what I found when searching for a ticket to Canada.

worldpoints booking 3 Can the Fidelity Amex give more than a 3% value when used for travel?  Yes, it can!

It works!  The terms and conditions don’t lie!  If you book this online, there are no additional fees. If you book this over the telephone, there is a $10 additional fee.


The Fidelity Amex may be an even better card for travel than it is for cash back, if you can get passed the restrictions of the Premium Air Award.  I gave 2 successful examples above, so the restrictions are certainly not an issue.  Of course, to get the full rate of return, the ticket value for a domestic ticket has to be exactly $400 and a ticket to Canada, Mexico, or Caribbean exactly $600.  I didn’t care to evaluate other destinations as the spend requirement on the card becomes quite steep.

In addition, the flights booked with the card will earn “butt in seat miles” since it’s a paid ticket, unless you are flying Delta of course icon smile Can the Fidelity Amex give more than a 3% value when used for travel?  Yes, it can!

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Just yesterday, I ordered American Express gift cards through  (not a referral link) when the rebate was 2%.  Today, it looks like they have increased the rebate to 3%.  Wish I would have waited another day.  I put the purchase on my Southwest Airlines Visa card in an attempt to earn the companion pass.  I hope to hopefully cash these out with vanilla reloads and bluebird and the 2% will help offset the fees.

I’ve had pretty good success with Topcashback.  All my transactions through them have posted appropriately.

I purchased $3K worth of gift cards yesterday and already see the appropriate rebate pending in my account in just 1 day.

topcashback pending 3% rebate on Amex gift cards is back on Topcashback

If you read the terms and conditions on the topcashback amex page, you maybe reluctant to order more than $500 worth of gift cards because it says you will only receive cashback on $500 (See image below).  Clearly, that’s not the case from my experience.

topcashback amex terms 3% rebate on Amex gift cards is back on Topcashback

Also, it says that promotional / voucher codes not posted and approved by Topcashback may effect your eligibility for cashback.  I used SYNCGIFT to waive all purchase fees.  This was not posted on the Topcashback site but on the Amex site.  So, again, the terms and conditions are not strictly enforced.  I still had to pay for shipping.

One additional interesting thing I noticed was the Topcashback now allows you to cash in your rebate in the form of an Amazon gift card for an additional 5% cashback bonus… not too bad.

amazon payment option 3% rebate on Amex gift cards is back on Topcashback

I hope this 3% sticks around in 2 weeks as I will be ordering more gift cards to pay my taxes with.  For more on learning about Amex gift cards, check out this stellar post from Frequentmiler.

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Paypal checkout allows the use of prepaid gift cards

Ebay and Paypal are the most stringent companies I know, which in my opinion is a good thing.  They are good about catching fraud and shutting down suspicious accounts.

In the past, Paypal had a policy which made it difficult, if not impossible to link a prepaid gift card to your account and make a purchase with paypal checkout.  According to this old help FAQ page

You can’t link a gift card, prepaid card, or one-time-use card to your PayPal account.

However, it looks like they have changed this policy in November 2013, and now allow you to use prepaid gift cards with any merchant that uses paypal checkout.  They should probably update that FAQ page.

use prepaid gift cards paypal Paypal checkout allows the use of prepaid gift cards

Many online websites don’t allow for the direct use of prepaid gift cards as payment for purchases since there is no billing address associated with them.    However, if that merchant uses paypal checkout, you can now link your prepaid gift card to your paypal account and use it as payment.

According to the new announcement, if you:

Already have a PayPal account?

Add your prepaid gift cards to your PayPal wallet during checkout as you add a new debit or credit card, and choose a prepaid card that has enough balance to cover the total amount to pay. It’s that simple!

Don’t want to create a PayPal account just yet?

No problem! Just enter the card information as you normally do with a debit or credit card during checkout. For the billing address, you can enter your home or shipping address. As long as the prepaid gift card you selected has enough balance to cover the total amount, you are good to go! If you like this experience, you can sign up to become a PayPal member at any time.

So, this adds an avenue to actually use Visa, Amex, Mastercard, and Discover gift cards for merchants online.  I would much rather offload the Visa and Mastercard gift cards to Bluebird, but this will in a small way help me offload them legitimately icon smile Paypal checkout allows the use of prepaid gift cards


Last weekend, I had the pleasure of taking a nice trip to California.  We made San Jose our base camp and took day trips to Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur, San Francisco, and Sausalito.

Pfiffer beach big sur Hate paying excessive hotel parking fees.... theres an app for that!

Pfeiffer beach big sur

I booked a triple AAA rate at the Fairmont San Jose mostly because it was highly rated on Tripadvisor and I got a fairly decent price of $123 a night.  It was my first time staying at a Fairmont, and it certainly lived up to its rating.

One of the downsides of the great hotel was that it only had valet parking for $26 a night (plus tax + tip).  It’s really a bummer when you get a nice rate on the hotel, but they make up for it in their hotel parking fees.  Normally, I am a self parking kind of guy, but that didn’t seem to be an option at this downtown San Jose hotel.  Considering I was there for 4 nights, I certainly could think of better things to do with $104 than spend it on parking.

After searching on google, I ended up on yelp and found that I could self park at the Fairmont Plaza garage which was attached to the Fairmont.  However, it wasn’t much better and would be $20 if you entered in the evening and left in the morning.

Upon further searching, I came across  The idea is brilliant – find the cheapest and most convenient parking in the city.

You pick the city, and then search a particular address, neighborhood, or attraction.  Enter the arrival and departure time and it shows you the total cost of available parking in different parking garages.  Hate paying excessive hotel parking fees.... theres an app for that!

They have an iphone app which I downloaded.  The app seems to be pretty good.   An example of a search near the Fairmont San Jose shows that the cheapest parking around is $12 for the time that I wanted.

best parking 1 Hate paying excessive hotel parking fees.... theres an app for that! best parking 2 Hate paying excessive hotel parking fees.... theres an app for that! best parking 3 Hate paying excessive hotel parking fees.... theres an app for that!

When you click on the price, it shows the location of the garage with the details of the calculated cost.

So, instead of paying $26 a night at the Fairmont, you can get $12 a night just 4 blocks away.

You do need to keep in mind that the valet parking at the Fairmont allows for in and out privileges. Other public garages usually do not. That wasn’t an issue for me because I would park at night, leave in the morning, go on a day trip and then park again at night. If you need in and out privileges, then you may just have to suck it up and pay the $26.

It looks like includes many cities in the US and a few in Canada.

best parking cities Hate paying excessive hotel parking fees.... theres an app for that!

Overall, I was impressed with the concept of the app and that it saved me around $50 on parking!  I will certainly be using it again!

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The Fidelity American Express card is frequently talked about as one of best cash back cards as it gives 2% cash back on everything and has no annual fee.  You earn 2 Worldpoints for every dollar spent which you can convert to cash and deposit into a linked Fidelity account.

This card also serves as a benchmark in that it sets forth a value on miles.  If you use a miles earning card that gives 1 mile per dollar spent, then you are essentially buying that mile for 2 cents, because that is what you would be earning if you used the Fidelity Amex.

I got a promotional email for the Fidelity American Express that offers 5000 points (worth $50) after you spend $500 within 60 days.

Fidelity amex The famous Fidelity American Express (2% back on everything) with $50 bonus

This is not a huge bonus offer, but it’s not bad considering that normally, there is no bonus involved.  Since it has no annual fee, you can keep this card forever.  It is actually issued by FIA Services, a subsidiary of Bank of America.

Also, keep in mind that the 2% cash back can only be earned if the card is linked to a Fidelity account.  You can link it to a Fidelity Cash Management Account or a Fidelity Brokerage account.

In the email I received, it also stated that:

Experience all the advantages of the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express Card—including this limited time bonus offer. Call 866-598-4971 or apply online today and reference code VAB2R7

So, it looks like anyone can apply for it.  Application link

Here is an excellent FAQ on the Fidelity Amex cards.

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How long is the United ticket hold valid for?

Reader “A North” asks:

How long is a United ticket hold or award hold good for?

When you hold a ticket on United using the paypal trick, the following is what I have found from my experience:

  • If you hold a revenue ticket that involves United flights or partner flights, your reservation will be held till midnight of the third day from the time held.  For example, if you hold the ticket at 3pm on Tuesday, your hold will expire at midnight on Thursday.  If you book on 12:01 AM on Tuesday, it expires on midnight Thursday giving you the maximum hold time of 72 hours.
  • If you hold an award ticket that involves only United flights, your reservation will be held just like in the case above (max of 72 hours).
  • If you hold an award ticket that involves any partner airline flight, your reservation will be held till midnight the next day.  The maximum hold time is 48 hours assuming you create the award hold at 12:01 AM.

If you choose to extend your hold, you may want to follow these directions so you don’t risk losing your existing reward.

After you have held a ticket, you can find the correct expiration date and time of the hold by doing the following:

1.  On the United home page, look under “Reservations,” then click on “Change/View Existing reservations”

united reservations How long is the United ticket hold valid for?

2.  The next screen shows your existing reservations.  It makes it very clear that your “reservation is not ticketed.”  Click “view” to see the details of your nonticketed reservation.

united reservations view How long is the United ticket hold valid for?

3.  After clicking “view”, the next screen shows you the details of your reservation and the exact expiration date and time of your hold.   If you are ever unsure about your expiration, this is the screen to check that information.  It also gives you the option to “Purchase Now” which is what you want to click if want to go ahead and ticket the award.   Obviously, you can cancel your hold from here as well.

united reservations 3 How long is the United ticket hold valid for?

4.  After clicking “Purchase Now,” the rest is pretty straight forward and you ticket it just like buying a ticket from United.  There should be no changes in the price or miles, which is the whole point of the hold!


OfficeMax gift card for 10% off on Ebay

You can currently buy a $500 Officemax gift card for $450 on Ebay.  You can get an additional 2% back ($9) in the form of Ebay bucks.  The ebay seller is actually Giftcard mall, so it’s certainly a reliable seller.

This is a better discount for Officemax gift cards compared to other sites like Gift Card Zen, Raise, or Cardpool.  I trust Gift Card mall better than any of these other sites.

It probably won’t last long as quantities are limited.

officemax OfficeMax gift card for 10% off on Ebay


A few days ago, I held an award ticket to Europe on United using the PayPal trick. Award holds that involve any partner airlines are valid till midnight the next day.

The next day, I wanted to hold the award again because I was still uncertain about my plans.  This would give me another day to think about things.  In theory, you could do this again and again everyday as long as award seats are still available.

So, I searched for award seats and saw that they were still available.  Naturally, I cancelled my existing hold, so that I could create a new hold.

Then, a crazy thing happened!   As I tried to create a new hold, the award space that I had just seen 5 minutes ago was no longer showing.  I am really unsure of why this happened, but it did. Can inventory change that quickly?  You would figure that if you cancel an award, that inventory would go back into play and be bookable again.  I tried again and again to no avail.  I was quite upset as in my mind, I had just lost (cancelled) 2 award seats.  If I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold the award again because the seats would disappear, I might have been tempted to just ticket the award.

Out of luck and award seats, I wondered if I could have done anything different to prevent this scenario from happening.  Could I have created a 2nd award hold for the same flights and itinerary BEFORE canceling the 1st?   If that was possible, there would never be an instance where I was without award seats.  In my above example, it was in “this instance” where award inventory disappeared and I had already lost my award.

So, I tried it.  I tried to hold the same itinerary twice.  I searched for award space, found the space, held the award, and repeated the process for the same passenger.

And I was successful!  Although you can’t see the exact details, what you are seeing below are two different award holds (different confirmation numbers) for the same exact flight on the same day.  Yes, I am holding 2 seats under my name on the same flight.

united hold Losing an award seat on United sucks... How to properly renew an award hold

What does this prove?

The moral of the story here is that United will let you hold more than one seat in your name for the same flight.  I didn’t think that this would be possible.

This is key in that you can extend your award hold by creating a second award hold for your flights before canceling your existing one.  The intuitive thing to do is to cancel your existing award hold and then create a new one.  However, when you do that, you take the risk of losing award seats altogether.  Although that risk is probably small, it happened to me.

This is of course valid only if award seats are available to create a second hold.Have you ever let go of award space and then seen the inventory disappear?