The Citibank envelope that was in the mailbox when I returned home today contained two new American Airlines AAdvantage linked cards. But, in a first for me, I received both a replacement Visa and a new American Express. Huh?

When I signed up for the card, it was just a Visa. How did I now get two different cards?

The enclosure explained:

We have enhanced your Citi/AAdvantage credit card account. You now have two Citi/AAdvantage cards, including a Citi/AAdvantage American Express card, to access your existing account and credit line. These two new cards – which are enclosed and carry no additional fee — replace the Citi/AAdvantage card you are currently carrying, and provide you with more places to earn American Airlines AAdvantage miles.

Perhaps there’s precedent for this, but I’ve never had a bank issue me a second, different card before.

I suppose it’s a no-cost addition, and since it’s considered part of the same credit line, it doesn’t hit my credit report as a new, separate account. (Their enclosed FAQ’s stress this point.)

But no thanks. My wallet’s credit card space is already fully occupied, and frankly, I don’t need this Amex. (“Waste of plastic” comes to mind.) If I’m using an Amex, it’ll be my Starwood-linked card.

Anyone have a different take?


It’s Election Day in the USA, and I’m obsessively watching the returns, so here are a few quick nuggets you should be aware of, if you’re looking to upgrade your travel experience:

FareCompare wants you to go on a mileage run
The folks at FareCompare are running a sweepstakes of sorts, offering the lucky winner the opportunity to go on a mileage run for up to 15,000 miles of travel on the airline of their choice. If you’re just shy of elite status (re)qualification and have time to kill, it can’t hurt to enter.

OpenSkies knocks $200 off fares to Paris
All-premium carrier (and British Airways subsidiary) OpenSkies has a promo code for $200 off flights from New York to Paris if you book and fly by November 30, 2010. Promo code is PAR200DO.

Citibank brings back the 75,000-mile American AAdvantage bonus
Well, that didn’t take long… While the mega-bonuses on new Citibank/American Airlines credit cards ended on October 31, a new offer is already up. 75,000 miles after $4000 spend within 6 months, with no annual fee. Not quite as easy to attain as the last round of offers, but still a fine, fine way to collect some major mileage balances. (via Gary Leff)

Now, back to the polls…

aa citibank bonus miles American AAdvantage Citibank mega bonuses: Only one week left
Back in September, I posted about the amazingly huge mileage bonuses which Citibank was offering new American Airlines AAdvantage Visa and Amex cardholders. For no annual fee in the first year, you could get 75,000 or 100,000 miles for reaching spending thresholds.

I opted for a personal Visa card that offered up 75,000 bonus miles after just $1500 in spending. I quickly reached the threshold, and the bonus appears on my current statement (screenshot above). The miles were reflected in my AA account the next day.

Echoing Gary Leff’s comments on this subject, these bonuses are among the best credit card mileage offers that have ever been made available. If you’re feeling particularly frisky, sign up for one personal card and one business card. If you’ve got a partner, have the partner do the same. This is an easy way to rack up a boatload of miles in one of the best programs out there, a program that actually has solid award availability.

The mega-offers run out on October 31, 2010, so act fast.

Here are the links again.

75,000 miles after $1500 in purchases within 6 months, no fee the first year:

100,000 miles: 50,000 miles after $750 in purchases within 4 months, and another 50,000 miles after $10,000 in purchases within 12 months, no fee the first year

citibank aa logo Enormous sums of American Airlines AAdvantage miles still available via credit card offersThis week, our household received three credit card offers from Citibank, all for American Airlines AAdvantage credit cards. Each came with a different sum of bonus miles: 30,000, 50,000, and 75,000 miles. (Two of the envelopes were addressed to my wife, one to me.) Talk about mixed messages!

The 75K bonus (with $1,500 in purchases within 6 months) and a 100K bonus (with $10,000 in purchases within a year) first hit the inter-tubes about a month ago. I thought I had posted about it, but looking back, I didn’t. (Gary Leff was on the scene.)

This sort of deal usually doesn’t last long, but the fact that they’re sending it out to folks via snail mail (with an application deadline of October 31, 2010) and not just electronically suggests that it has some legs.

Some caveats/warnings: 1) If you can’t manage your credit, stay away from these cards. It’s not worth messing up your finances for a chunk of miles. 2) The cards have an annual fee, but it’s waived the first year. You can collect the bonus and cancel the card before the fee kicks in, but you’ll need to likely need to hold the card for 8 to 10 months after qualifying for the bonus in order to receive the miles. And 3) choose the right card. If you’re not going to spend $10,000 on a card in 12 months, don’t sign up for the 100K mile cards.

But, caveats aside, and in the interest of beefing up your mileage accounts, here are the links, via Gary.

75,000 miles after $1500 in purchases within 6 months, no fee the first year:

100,000 miles: 50,000 miles after $750 in purchases within 4 months, and another 50,000 miles after $10,000 in purchases within 12 months, no fee the first year

American Express has been sending out letters to holders of its Starwood credit card, announcing a hefty 44% percent hike in their annual fee. My notification arrived in the mail today. (Notably, in the mail… not e-mail.) Starting October 14, 2010, the next time the card renews, the fee rises to $65 a year. (If your card renews before that date, you get it at the old rate for another year.) It’s the second hike in two years — the $30 fee went to $45 in 2008.

The sales pitch argues that the card now comes with new benefits:

  • Buy-two-nights-get-one-free option on Starwood-family hotel stays
    Okay, fine, but there are plenty of strings attached to that. Prepayment. Limited dates. Participating hotels only. And a lack of clarity on whether the rates are actually the lowest available. Big whoop.
  • Five nights credit toward elite status
    That means 20 nights to gold instead of 25, 45 to platinum instead of 50. It’s nights, not stays. No bone being thrown to those who reach elite level with stays rather than nights? Pfft.

Color me unimpressed by the new benefits or the new price. These “benefits” don’t warrant a 44% price hike. This sure looks like a downgrade. It looks, swims, and quacks like a downgrade. It’s a downgrade.

I still like the Starwood program because of its flexibility. Not only do you earn points that can be redeemed for hotel stays, but you can convert your points 1:1 — at no cost — into a laundry list of airline programs. They even give you a 5000-point bonus if you transfer a threshold of 20,000 Starwood points — making those worth 25,000 airline miles.

So the next question is whether or not to hold onto the card, now that the price tag is higher.

For the time being (especially with nearly half a year left before I need to renew), I’m staying put. I’m still getting a good return by putting points into SPG and leveraging those for high-value awards worth more than 2 or 3% cash rebates.

But take away redemption opportunities or make it harder to cash in, and it may be time to look more closely at the Costco Amex’s 3% cashback on gasoline and restaurants, and 2% back on airlines, car rentals, travel agents, and hotels is tempting. Especially since the Costco card has no annual fee if you’re already a member there.

(For those who were considering becoming Starwood Amex cardholders before this news — and I get a number of e-mails asking me about the card — you still get the first year free; the second year is when they sock it to you.)

Current cardholders, does this change the value proposition for you? Are you sticking with the Starwood Amex or bailing out?

Categorized in: credit cards, Starwood

chip and pin Chip and PIN credit cards finally land on American shoresVia Emily in the comments comes word that a credit union has become the first USA-based credit card issuer to offer its customers chip-and-PIN as well as swipe-and-sign payment options.

It’s probably no surprise that the credit union in question is one with a highly mobile and international user base: the United Nations Federal Credit Union, whose membership is limited to employees of the UN, a limited set of affiliated organizations, and family members of existing members.

However, despite being rolled out by a niche provider, this is still a big step for the American credit card industry. It opens the door for what could potentially be a huge upgrade for American residents traveling internationally, especially to Europe.

Adding the chip-and-PIN option doesn’t remove the functionality of the magnetic stripe. It just adds a feature that wasn’t there before, much like the RFID-based “tap-and-go” chips that some large issuers have added to their cards in recent years.

For banks with large numbers of international transactions, the addition of the chip sounds like a winning proposition:

The chip and PIN system has lowered the incidence of card fraud at the point of sale in the countries where it has been implemented, but critics have pointed out it has led to an increase in Internet or other “card not present” fraud.

Merrill Halpern, the card services manager for UNFCU, explained that the credit union had been contemplating starting to issue the cards for a while, both to better serve its international membership and to limit the CU’s exposure to card fraud. Halpern would not share specific numbers to illustrate the credit union’s card fraud but noted that it was significantly higher than for other financial institutions, including banks.

Part of the reason for the higher than average fraud incidence is that other credit unions with primarily U.S.-based memberships can, for example, automatically decline card transactions from some overseas countries perceived to have a high risk of card fraud to protect themselves from losses. But with its 88,000 members spread across 205 countries, Halpern pointed out that option is less feasible for UNFCU. Further, its members had started to complain about the lack of the chip and PIN cards, particularly when traveling on U.N. or other business.

This doesn’t mean that the chip-and-PIN system will be in use at any American terminals yet. That’s a sizable infrastructure investment that seems unlikely to occur anytime soon.

And while the addition of Chip-and-PIN would speed in-person transactions for American banking customers abroad, and allow Americans to use automated gasoline pumps, ticket vending machines, and parking fee machines in Europe, the system still has its flaws. Security isn’t guaranteed (much as it isn’t with a swipe-and-sign setup), with some semi-comical results.

Still, I’m still hopeful that this credit union’s experience is positive, and that more banks and credit unions follow through as well. It would be a big boon to frequent international travelers.

Categorized in: chip-and-PIN, credit cards