Florida residents: If you have your health insurance with Florida Blue, you can now pay your monthly bill with your credit card. There is no extra cost to do so.
However, you do need to get on line, print out a bar code, and then make a quick trip to a CVS drug store. You can pay your entire monthly bill, though you will be limited to a maximum of $999 per 24 hours. So if your insurance bill is higher than that, you will need to make more than one trip if you want to take full advantage of this.
STEPS TO PAY YOUR BILL WITH A CREDIT CARD:
Go to FloridaBlue.com
Log on to your account by filling in your user name and password
At the top of the next page, click on “Claims and Expenses”
Then click on “Bill Paying Services”
Select “In Person” by clicking on the link to “Get Barcode”
You will then be presented with a PDF page that includes a barcode. You need to print that page. You cannot just show the barcode on a phone.
Take the printed page to either a CVS pharmacy or a Navarro pharmacy, and present it to the cashier with your credit card.
Let the cashier know how much you want to pay. Hint: Because the monthly bill is usually some odd amount, I write down the exact amount on the bottom of the sheet with the barcode and give it to the cashier.
Your transaction will be posted like a regular purchase from CVS. If you have a credit card that gives a bonus for spend at drug stores, you should get that bonus.
NOTES FROM BLUE CROSS ABOUT THE PAYMENT: Your payment is due by the due date on your bill. Payments received after your due date do not guarantee that your policy will remain active. CVS can accept payments from $1 to $999 per 24 hours .
I have been taking advantage of this service for a few months. The payment takes a couple days to appear on you Florida Blue records. This is a relatively painless way to increase your spend if you are a Florida Blue customer.
Tax time is here. If you owe Uncle Sam some money, you can earn reward points by paying the amount you owe with your credit card. This is NOT something for everyone. There is a fee associated with paying taxes by credit card. But in some cases, it can make sense.
If you pay estimated taxes on a quarterly basis, or if you owe taxes at the end of the year, just click on one of the links to the tax paying services. The service will ask for your name as it appears on IRS forms, and for your social security number. You. can then designate any amount to be paid to the IRS. The amount is sent, and you will immediately receive an e-mail confirming the payment.
How Much Does it Cost? 1.87% or more
The least expensive option at this time is to use Pay1040.com
It charges a fee of 1.87%, with a minimum fee of $2.89. So if you are paying $1000 in taxes, you will pay a fee of $18.70. Your credit card will be charged a total of $1018.70, and you will earn 1018 reward points if you are using a card that “pays” 1 point/mile per dollar.
When Does This Makes Sense?
First, in most cases, it does NOT make sense to pay taxes by credit card. I prefer to get my reward points at no extra cost to me. But, there are times when it can make sense. You need to run the numbers to see if it is a good investment in your case.
To Meet Minimum Spend:
If you have a new credit card, and you are trying to meet your minimum spend requirement, paying a fee of 1.87% can make sense. For example, consider a typical airline card that will award you 50,000 miles after spending $3000. If your normal spending habits will only net you $2000 in spend in the required period, you could easily justify spending $18.70 in fees to be sure that you get the 50,000 miles.
Make a Profit with an Alaska Air Credit Card:
You could pay your taxes and still make a “profit” after fees if you get a new Alaska Airlines card from Bank of America. The current offer on that card gives you 30,000 Alaska Air miles, and a $100 credit after you spend $1000 on the card. There is an annual fee of $75, which is not waived. You could get this card, and use it to pay $1000 in taxes. You would pay fees of $93.70 ($75 annual fee and $18.70 for the cost of using credit to pay taxes). After you get your $100 statement credit, you have a “profit” of $6.30.
Use with a Credit Card that Rewards at 2% Rate
Some credit cards have a higher reward rate than 1 point per dollar. For example, if you have a Barclay Arrival card, you earn 2 Arrival points per dollar spent. So if you pay a fee of 1.87%, you still come out ahead.
Topping Off Reward Balances
Sometimes we are close, but not quite at the level needed to get a reward. If you can justify pay 1.87 cents per point to top off an account – then paying your tax bill is one way to do that. But keep in mind that airline or hotel points are sometimes available to buy directly for less than that amount.
Benjamin Franklin told us that the only things that are certain are death and taxes. Since the taxes are certain, you might as well think about whether it makes some sense to earn travel rewards when you pay them. We’ll save the death issue for another day.
In 1987, I flew from Florida to the South Pacific for the first time. Qantas was offering a special ticket that included stops at a number of cities in Australia and New Zealand for a base price of about $2000 in coach. I don’t have my exact records from that trip, but my recollection is that the airfare came to about $2200 with taxes. I flew mostly in 10 across seating in 747s. The routing included a stop in Hawaii in both directions, because at the time, the 747 did not have the range to make it non-stop from LAX to Australia. It took a total of about 22 hours of flying (more than 30 hours when you included layover time) to get to the land down under.
My how times have changed for the better. In January-February 2016, I flew business class to Australia and New Zealand. I used a combination of 145,000 American Airlines miles and 18,000 British Airways Avios points, and I paid for one Virgin Australia flight. Total cash paid for flights was $367
The time spent flying in 2016 was about the same as in 1987. But the luxury afforded in business class could not have been imagined, even in First Class, in 1987. This is why I love collecting frequent flier points.
If you intend to get into the travel rewards game, it’s important to get off on the right foot by making a list (or lists). This hobby takes some organizational skills. You will have to keep track of certain information to be successful. In this post, I’ll share how I do that. You will need to decide what works best for you.
I used to routinely tell people that they needed to use a spreadsheet to keep track of their points and credit card information. However, I quickly found out that approximately 94.6%* of the population’s eyes glaze over when you say the word “spreadsheet.”
*Note that approximately 86.2% of all statistics are made up. Or something like that.
So, even though I use a spreadsheet, you don’t have to. You can just type out the stuff in a word processing program. Or use a database if you have one you like. But, you don’t even need to use a computer. Old fashioned pencil and paper work fine, if that’s what you like. Separate Index cards are also workable. The important thing is to organize all the important information.
What information to track?
Here is the list of information that I put on my list, with a brief explanation of why it’s important.
Credit Card Name —
The FULL name. Not just something like AA Visa, or Delta Amex. You should write down the full official name of the card. Important because you need to keep track of which cards you already have (or have had), so you know what you can apply for in the future. Each bank has rules about whether you can get a signup bonus for a card more than once, and if so, how often. If you have a card that you can only get a bonus for once in your life (virtually all Amex personal cards), you want to keep track, so that you don’t apply for it again. And some banks issue completely new cards with slightly different sounding names. If its a new product, you can often apply for it and get the bonus, even if you had something that sounded similar in the past.
Issuing Bank —
Amex? Chase? Barclay? Citi? USBank? Bank of America? Keep track, because each bank has rules about how often you can apply, and how many total cards you can have with them. If you already have 4 personal Amex cards, you are probably not going to get approved for a 5th. So its best to keep track.
Date of Application —
Sometimes you can get a card – and the bonus — more than once. In those situations, there is usually a time frame when the new applications can be submitted and still be eligible for the bonus. This might be pegged to the date that you applied for the previous card.
Date Approved —
Approval date is important because that’s the date that starts your time period for meeting the spending requirement. Almost all cards require you to spend a certain amount of money on the card within a certain time period. Typically, you need to charge $2000-3000 on the card within 90 days to get the bonus. That 90 day clock starts ticking on the date you are approved — not the date that you get the card.
Annual Fee — Write it down now, while you remember it. You will save time later when you are deciding whether to keep the card.
Bonus Information —
I recommend writing down 1) the amount of the bonus; 2) the spend requirement to get the bonus (or other requirements for getting the bonus); and 3) the time limit of meeting the spend requirement. Again, this is a case of writing it down while its fresh in your memory, so you will save time later. Believe me, once you get 5 or more cards, you will have difficulty remembering the details about each product. Spend or other requirements
Date the Bonus was Awarded — In some cases, you will be eligible for a bonus again by applying for a new card after a certain amount of time has passed since the last time you were awarded a bonus. So, best to write the date down.
Decision Date for Renewal or Close —
After a year, you will want to review the pros and cons of each credit card to decide whether its worth paying an annual fee to keep it. Some cards offer benefits that outweigh the cost of the annual fee, and you may want to keep those. Others are best closed before the fee is due. You should write down the date that you need to make a decision on whether to keep the card, and then calendar that item.
Optional Information to Include
You can also include your credit card number, the expiration date, and the security code in your list. But think about that carefully before writing it down. The advantage is that all the information is readily available in one place. The problem is that creates a security concern. Anybody with access to this information, can use your credit line very easily, especially for online purchases. This information needs to be kept securely, just like you secure your credit cards themselves.
Write It Down Now to Save Time Later
If you are working to get travel rewards via credit cards, what other information do you like to record? It may take a little time up front to write all of this down in an organized list/spreadsheet… but it’s time well invested.
This holiday seems dull compared to the airfare frenzy that we were experiencing on this day last year. Today is the anniversary of the great Etihad Christmas 2014 Mistake Fare. $187 round trip from the US to Abu Dhabi. Or go to South Africa for about $250.
So far nothing similar. Perhaps in 2016.
For those of you who have no experience with mistake fares… they are like a crazy black Friday frenzy. When you hear about one, you need to book first and ask questions later. You can almost always cancel for no cost within 24 hours.
I’ve booked mistake fares twice in my life. First was thanks to a travel alert from Travelzoo. I flew from Tallahasse to Madrid round trip for $234 on Delta. You usually can’t fly one way to Atlanta for $234. I promptly booked. By the time some friends thought about it (too much) it was gone.
Then I jumped on the Etihad mistake fare last Christmas. In the end, because of a number of changes to the routing (outlined in a previous post), I canceled and got my money back. But it was a crazy fun day bookiing that trip. And it was the start to an amazing journey. I made it to Abu Dhabi, as part of a round the world trip that included fabulous first class flights.
Do you like the idea of a crazy low cost adventure? One of the best places to get alerts for those rare mistake fares is flightdeal.com Better yet, signup for their twitter feed. Then, if you hear of a deal… act FAST. And don’t call the airline.
I’ve just returned from a hot adventure (and I do mean hot) to Southeast Asia. I spent 20 days traveling to and touring Bangkok, Cambodia, and Vietnam. These destinations are unique and very affordable ($10 massages, anyone). And thanks to excellent availability of award tickets, the 20+ hours of flying time can be completely enjoyable.
The journey looked like this:
I used American Airlines miles to book business class flights on Cathay Pacific Airlines (with one leg on Cathay’s regional airline, Dragonair). Total cost was 110,000 miles and about $90 in taxes and fees.
Avoiding the Killer 20+ Hour Coach Class Flight
Traveling to Asia from the US, especially the east coast, is a killer. It’s generally about 14-15 hours at least from the west coast. Add in connections to the east coast, and you are easily looking at 20+ hours of butt in seat time each way. I did that in coach a couple of times when I was younger. Thanks to the wonders of airline reward points, I didn’t have to even think about it this time.
American Airlines is a member of the One World airline alliance. One World includes American, British Air, Qantas, Air Berlin, Finnair, Iberia, and others — including the wonderful Hong Kong airline, Cathay Pacific.
Cathay has an excellent business class product — one of the best business class seats in the sky.
Fly Cathay, and you can sleep your way to Asia (as I did). And American Airlines has about the best “price” for those seats.
Using AA Miles to Fly Cathay Pacific
Use your AA miles, and you will just pay 55,000 miles plus about $45 in taxes each way. (Note: price will be going up in March 2016)
Most people don’t ever think about using their AA miles on another airline. Many don’t know you can do that. (Yes, you can use your AA miles for flights on any other One World Airline, as well as some other partners). Or if they know you can use miles on other airlines, they don’t realize that seats are available — because AA doesn’t show you all the availability on its website.
If you go to the AA website and do a search for award flights from the US to Asia, mostly what you’ll see is (very limited) availability on AA’s on flights to places like Hong Kong. But if you know where to look, you will find more seats and more destinations using partner airlines like Cathay, or Japan Airlines.
Search for Awards on British Airways; Then Call AA to Book
The “secret” is to use a search engine on another One World airline that does show the availability of more of the partner airlines. Specifically, my go-to source for One World award availability is the British Airways web site. And that’s how I found my seats on this trip.
Many months ago (important), I opened up the British Airways web site, logged into my Avios account (Avios is the name of BA’s frequent flier program), and searched for Cathay Pacific awards to Bangkok (the start of my tour), and from Hanoi (the end of the tour). It took some juggling dates, but since it was far in advance, I was able to quickly locate 2 business class tickets for the journey (my sister joined me on this trip.)
Finding the awards on the British Airways site does NOT mean that I booked them there. If I had booked the seats there, the “price” would have been much higher, because Avios charges more for those kinds of awards. But, having found the seats that were available, I simply called the AA award reservations line and gave them the flight numbers I wanted. They were able to find the same seats, and confirm the booking.
Flexibility — YES, even later upgrading to FIRST Class
With AA awards, you have some flexibility. You can change the date that you are planning to travel, as long as you don’t change the place you are leaving from or the place you are going to. Other changes can incur fees.
You can also upgrade your class of service if it later becomes available, and there is no change fee — you just pay the difference in miles. For example, on this trip, a First Class seat opened up on Cathay’s trip from LAX to Hong Kong at the last minute. My sister was able to call in and upgrade her ticket. (I tried to do the same but had glitches because I had already flown the first leg. sigh.)
Make The Flight Part of the Fun, Instead of the Torture You Need to Endure
Asia is an amazing adventure. The people of Southeast Asia are smiling and happy to see you, and there is great value there. Don’t let the thought of long long flights deter you from seeing someplace completely different from your world. Collect points and use them to make getting there as enjoyable as being there.
Coming soon — details about the flights and the tour.
You saw in my previous post that my RTW itinerary is Chicago – Hong Kong – Dubai – Abu Dhabi – London – Dublin – Dallas.
This is undoubtedly the most random but interesting itinerary that I’ve ever cobbled together. People have been asking my how and why I selected those cities.
A Christmas Present to Myself? Sure!
It all started on Christmas 2014, the day of the infamous Etihad Airlines Christmas mistake fare.
I woke up early and, as usual, I checked my phone, with a quick look at e-mail, Facebook, and twitter. Yes, I am one of those people. There were lots and lots of posts about some amazing fares from the US to Abu Dhabi for only $187 round trip. At first I ignored the information.
This was a Christmas that I had decided to stay home, and there are no little kids at home, so there wasn’t much activity going on in the morning. Sometime midmorning, I went online and began reading more. People were bragging about the fare still being around, and — more importantly — that they were able to book itineraries that included stops in Paris or Manchester or Dublin for just slightly over $200. Things began to sound more interesting to me.
Earlier in 2014, I had obtained dual citizenship with Ireland (grandparents born there.) Since then, I wanted to make a return visit to the Emerald Isle. The idea of going to Ireland, with a “side trip” to the middle east for just under $200 sounded like an ideal Christmas present to myself. Sure it was in coach class, and required getting to Chicago. But still. A deal is a deal, right?
So I found an itinerary that had stops in Dublin both ways. Cost $237. My plan was to fly to Abu Dhabi, visit the UAE for 4-5 days, fly back to Dublin and not continue. Then I could find a return flight from Dublin to my home using frequent flier miles. I booked a one way return on American Airlines in business class for 50,000 miles.
Etihad Airlines Throws A Monkey Wrench Into the Deal
All was looking great until Etihad airlines mixed things up. To its credit, Etihad quickly announced that it would honor what was clearly a mistake fare. But then they decided to minimize their costs by changing itineraries to eliminate stops (which involved codeshares on American Airlines which cost Etihad more money), and put people all on nonstop Etihad flights. So my nice Irish plan turned into two 14-15 hour nonstop flights in 10 across coach seating. Ouch.
By that time, I had done lots of research about Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and was looking forward to visiting. So I started looking at other options.
Amazing Alaska to the Rescue
Enter the fabulous Alaska Airlines mileage program. Alaska has great partners, including Cathay Pacific Airlines. With 70,000 Alaska airlines miles, you can book an amazing FIRST CLASS trip to Hong Kong and beyond, including to Dubai. And include a stopover in Hong Kong. With some frequent searches I located a First Class seat from Chicago to Hong Kong, and then on to Dubai in business. So I booked it.
That got me from Chicago to Hong Kong and Dubai, and the AA award had me getting home from Dublin. So the final step was getting from Dubai or Abu Dhabi (just 45 minutes by car from Dubai) to Dublin.
Etihad First Class Apartment
The “final” decision was made easier after reading about the ultra luxurious Etihad First Class “Apartment” on its A380 which was available from Abu Dhabi to London for just 40,000 American Airlines miles. Then just 9000 Avios points for a first class short flight from London to Dublin. Add in great Club Carlson hotel availability in Dubai, London, and Dublin – and doing the trip was a no brainer.
Booking a mistake fare is like drunk booking. Sounds like so much fun when you are “under the influence” – crazy travel geeks endlessly posting about their great deals on www.flyertalk.com somehow make you want to jump in on the deal. Later, you could end up signed up for 30+ hours in coach, and saying “what was I thinking?”
Sometimes even when you do crazy things, the end result can be good.
Having frequent flier miles in a variety of airline programs gives you more flexibility (duh).
Most of my friends know that I travel a lot. But I don’t actually spend tons of money on travel, because I very rarely pay anything close to full price on airfare. And I often get hotel stays free or at very low cost. How? I have gotten hooked on a little hobby (or game) that gets me to many of the places I want to go, in premium class cabins, for little money. I collect literally millions rewards points and miles so that I can use them to fly and stay around the world.
I get lots of questions about how? Why? What’s the best way? Etc. So, this blog is an evolving attempt to collect some of the info I’ve discovered over the years. All of the information I have acquired, and much more is easily available by reading various travel blogs that cover the subject in much more detail.
First, I don’t fly on paid tickets very often — so that’s not how I earn miles and points. Virtually all of my rewards come from either credit card sign up bonuses and/or strategic use of credit cards to pay my everyday expenses.
What are the benefits, realistically?
A good credit card signup offer will get you 50,000 or more miles in some frequent flier or hotel loyalty program, usually with no fee for the first year. That’s in addition to the 1 point per dollar that you actually use the card to spend (or more, depending on the card). The 50,000 bonus alone is usually enough to get you:
• Two domestic round trip coach tickets (25,000 miles each), or
• One round trip first class domestic ticket, or
• in most cases a one way business class ticket to Europe.
• Round trip coach tickets to Europe are about 40-70 thousand points, depending on the airline and the time of year.
Apply for 10-12 cards over the course of a year, and you should end up with half a million points
Sure, but we know there’s no free lunch. What does it cost?
Absolutely, there is a cost, but if you play correctly, it is low compared to the cost of buying tickets – especially if you want to go long distances, or want to get a business or first class ticket.
• Credit cards generally have annual fees — but in MANY cases, they are waived for the first year. So you get the card, get the points and then cancel the card before the fee is due.
• When you “redeem” the mileage (AKA — here is a mileage geek term of art: “burn the miles”), there will be some taxes and fees. The tickets are not completely free. The costs vary depending on the airline. As examples, I have a business class round trip to Asia using American miles, and the fee came to about $40. Some airlines have higher fees and taxes, and I have sometimes paid $75-$140 for a business class trip to Europe. There are some airlines to avoid in order to avoid the highest fees (British Airways, I’m looking at you). You can get all of the info, and more, on line.
HOW TO GET STARTED
I suggest you start slow to get used to the game, and see if you like it. Start with 1 to 3 applications, wait at least 3 months and see how things are going.
Suggested beginning strategy:
Important – where do you want to go? That will help you decide what cards you want to apply for.
Other factors to consider –
what is the minimum spend requirement for each card you are considering? Don’t sign up for more than you can plan on spending.
Are there any special limited time offers that are good? From time to time most of the cards have a special limited time offer that gives more points, or some other special deal that makes it worth considering that card. READ THE BLOGS to get this info.
Start by getting one card each from the three major banks (Chase, Citi, Amex)
Consider an American Airlines card from Citi
Definitely get a flexible points card (Chase Sapphire or an Amex card that gives you membership reward points, depending on who has the best offer)
If you really get into the “game”, you will be applying for a lot of credit cards. I average 10-12 applications a year. But it took me several years to get comfortable enough to do that. I really suggest starting with about 3 cards to see if you like it, if you want to take the time needed, etc.
OMG!! What About My Credit Score??
As long as you do it correctly, this will NOT adversely impact your credit score. In fact, when you play correctly, your score usually goes up. (mine has)
Remember how your credit score is calculated:
35% of your score — payment history (pay on time all the time, and this will be great) 30% of your score –your credit utilization (DON’T USE all the credit you have — keep your usage rate low to beef up your score) 15% of your score — your credit history 10% of your score –-the types of credit you use (banks prefer to see a variety, such as credit cards, mortgages, car payments — all made on time) 10% of your score–requests for new credit (This is the only place where applying for a lot of cards causes you to lose a few points. BUT, by getting more credit (and not actually using it all), your payment history and credit utilization rates will go up) As a result, many people (including myself) find that after a short period of time, your credit score rises even with multiple credit applications.
The key is to always always always make your payments on time, and keep your utilization rate low.
A week ago I returned from one of the best trips I’ve ever done – both in terms of total enjoyment, and in terms of most “bang for the buck” out of frequent flier miles.
I visited Europe and South Africa. I flew in business class on American, and on Qatar (amazing product, btw). I paid $177 in taxes and fees, and used 110,000 USAirways miles.
I flew a total of 25,158 miles — about 250 miles MORE than the circumference of the earth. And I did it in comfort in business class seats that convert to lie flat beds on all the longest legs (including a 15 1/2 hour flight from Doha, Qatar to Miami)
The bad news is that with the merger of USAirways and American, the USAirways Dividend Miles program no longer exists. That award to South Africa was a particular “Sweet spot” in the USAir program that has not carried over to American. So getting to South Africa now would cost more miles — 150,000 using an American Airlines award.
But this is still a great example of what is possible using frequent flier miles wisely.