The newest 2% cash back card (and how to use it)


For quite a while now, there have been two cards worth mentioning for everyday, non-manufactured, real honest-to-God spend: the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express card, which gives 2% cash back on all purchases, and the Barclaycard Arrival (now Arrival+) MasterCard which earns 2 Arrival "miles" per dollar spend, redeemable for 1 cent each against travel purchases, with a 10% rebate on all travel purchase redemptions.

With its $89 annual fee, the Arrival+ MasterCard is theoretically only superior (with its 10% rebate) to the Fidelity Investment Rewards card if you spend over $44,500 per year on your Arrival+. Thanks to Barclaycard's liberal approach to annual fee waivers, that hasn't actually been a binding constraint for literally anyone I have talked to about the card. But that fee waiver policy could change at any time, so the annual fee is still important to be aware of.

Citibank has now entered the market with what claims to be a 2% cash back, no-annual-fee MasterCard. It's no secret that I've given Gary Leff a hard time about his fawning treatment of the card, but I'm not one to throw babies and bathwater out together. I'll probably get the card one of these days, and this is how I'll use it.

What we know – and don't know – about Citi Double Cash

The new Citi Double Cash card earns 1% cash back on purchases and an additional 1% cash back "as you pay." I assume my readers' first reaction to this scheme was the same as mine: "Wait, can I earn 1% cash back on bill payments?!?" Here's the relevant entry in the card's Terms and Conditions:

"Cash Back on Payments: You will also earn 1% cash back on payments you make that appear on your current month's billing statement as long as the amount paid is at least the Minimum Payment Due that is printed on your billing statement and there is a balance in the Purchase Tracker. The balance in the Purchase Tracker is reduced by eligible payments you make. When the Purchase Tracker reaches $0, you won't earn cash back on payments until more eligible purchases are made." (emphasis mine)

Good try, but whoever came up with the unlimited 5-ThankYou-Point-per-dollar offer has apparently been let go, so they aren't just shoveling cash willy-nilly into furnaces anymore.

What we don't know is what the hell a "Purchase Tracker" is and, most importantly, whether purchases show up there immediately upon posting or only after a statement has closed.

There's simply no way to know until datapoints start coming in, but that's a potentially huge difference: will folks who pay off their entire balance before each statement closes earn 1% or 2% cash back on their purchases?

For those who do wait to pay off their balances until after their statement closes, the final 1% cash back won't be earned until two months after the initial purchase was made. That makes the card a hybrid between the "old" Blue Cash's 2-statement delay and the Fidelity Investment Rewards card's 2% cash back program, which allows you to redeem all your rewards each month (as long as you've accumulated at least $50 in cash back).

The beauty of negative-interest-rate loans

Many cards offer 0% introductory interest rates on purchases. The goal, naturally, is for customers to run up large bills during the interest-free period, then pay them off over time (or, realistically, never) once the promotional period ends. It's a ludicrously simple – and effective – trap for unsuspecting customers.

Few of those 0% introductory rate cards offer 1% cash back on all purchases. None of them have offered 2% cash back on all purchases, until now.

The Citi Double Cash card offers 15 months of 0% interest rate financing for purchases (and balance transfers, but with their 3% balance transfer fee).

The 1% immediate cash back rate makes your initial manufactured spend purchases free once your first statement closes. Except they're better than free: they're interest-free. Fund Kiva loans with a US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards card, stick the money in a Mango 6% APY saving account, or pay off your Blue Cash card and go around the track another time or two each month. No matter what you do with the money, your returns will be printed at the bank's expense, since the 15-month loan is interest-free.

Then 14-and-a-half months later, pay off your Citi Double Cash card with your favorite miles-earning debit card and pocket another 1% cash back on the amount you've been floating.


That's how I'll be using my Citi Double Cash card, once I make up my mind to actually apply for one. I'd love to hear from readers who have already decided to jump in: what the hell is a Purchase Tracker, and what else do we need to know about the card?

Blogger, don't ask for credit card affiliate links


In the past few weeks, 3 events have piled up in my mind: a series of e-mail and voicemail messages I received from representatives of; a post by PointsChaser about being censored by Barclaycard; and this ridiculous hack job by Gary Leff this afternoon.

This post is my reflection on those three events, and a plea to readers – but especially bloggers – to just say no to credit card affiliate links.

Bankrate doesn't realize I don't work for them

Back in June, I signed up for an account on, one of the many web fronts of the same company that generates most online credit card affiliate links. Since I wasn't interested in cluttering up my website with banners, advertising text, and the other bullshit that company produces, I just pulled out the underlying links and linked directly to the cards I was writing about. I wrote about the two decent signup bonuses offered by that company, and forgot about it.

A couple months later, after not having made any money, they fired me, which I also wrote about here.

Here's the e-mail I received:

"A review of has revealed that you are still displaying links that have been scraped from Unfortunately, at this time, we must remove you from our Affiliate program. Please remove all links that direct readers to application pages from immediately. Failure to remove this content in a timely manner may prohibit you from marketing cards through our program in the future."

If that seems like a mutually satisfactory resolution, you'd only be half right. After firing me, they then have continued to pester me up until the present day with obnoxious e-mails like this one from Camille Thomas, dated August 7, over a year after being removed from their affiliate program:

"I hope all is well. For your site , Freequentflyerbook, can you please  remove the Chase affiliate links. Please notify when issue has been resolved."

and with voicemails threatening legal action by Chase (if someone can tell me how to download voicemails from an iPhone I'll post that crap as well).

Needless to say, I've told them to fuck completely and totally off, when I've replied to them at all. But the only reason these morons thought they had the right to e-mail me in the first place is that I decided to sign up for an account with them in the first place – a mistake I made because I thought that's how bloggers made money.

PointsChaser made a shocking amount of money from Barclaycard

A few days ago I read this post by Ariana Arghandewal at her personal blog, PointsChaser. It's structured as her rejection of Barclaycard's demands for her to take down content, but I naturally honed in on the most interesting part of her post:

"I wasn’t promoting Barclay cards much, but did manage to earn about $500-$1,000 in affiliate commission each month."

I understand, and have always understood, that travel hacking is a hobby engaged in, by and large, by those who are already well-off. Most folks only realize travel hacking exists once they're already in sales, management, or ownership positions that have them flying enough to naturally earn the miles, points, and elite status that have them asking what they can do with all these rewards currencies.

That's not me, but I understand.

But consider Ariana's statement, not from the perspective of someone who came into travel hacking from the sales, management, or ownership side, but from the perspective of those who don't work for a "living," but work to survive. The sums of money involved for a blogger who "wasn't promoting Barclay cards much" are already more than lots of folks take home from their minimum wage jobs.

Ariana claims to have been able to resist the temptation to cleanse her site of material Barclaycard didn't want to pay her for; every blogger who still has Barclaycard affiliate links, by definition, couldn't resist.

Gary Leff appears to be unable to write about the mechanics of Citi credit cards

I've written before that I have all 4 of the major 5% cash back credit cards, and have written extensively about the mechanics of all four: US Bank Cash+ allows you to redeem small amounts of cash back, Discover it requires a minimum of $50 to redeem for a direct deposit, Citi Dividend Platinum Select only allows you to earn $300 in cash back per year, etc.

But today I was shocked, jaded as I am, that Gary Leff wrote about a new 2% cash back card offered by Citi without providing any details whatsoever on the details on the mechanics of the card's rewards currency.

Just like the example from Ariana above, that's a situation that can only possibly come about because the people at Citi who pay Gary Leff (much more than $1,000 per month) don't want him to write about the mechanics of redeeming the card's rewards. They don't want him to write about anything except the talking points they've passed along to him.

Now, Gary makes enough money that he could tell them to fuck off if he wanted to. He hasn't, and until he does, I consider it the work of everyone in the community is to make sure he, and bloggers like him, aren't rewarded for taking advantage of their high-profile positions.


Blogger, and reader: just say no to credit card affiliate links.

Comparing Alaska promotional redemptions to year-round Avios redemptions


Alaska Airlines has announced a promotion, whereby one-way economy awards between select city pairs on Alaska metal cost between 5,000 and 12,500 Mileage Plan miles, a 60% discount on some routes.

Of course, to qualify seats have to be available at the lowest level of award availability, and that means they're also bookable using British Airways' distance-based Avios award chart.

So I thought it would be fun to compare the standard cost in Avios and the promotional cost in Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles.

Why it matters

Alaska Airlines miles are very valuable when redeemed for partner awards (100,000 miles and trivial taxes and fees for Emirates A380 First Class to Asia, for example) and for last-seat availability, for example to Hawaii during the Christmas holiday season or when you just need to be somewhere and are miles-rich but cash-poor (I know the feeling!).

At the same time, they're relatively difficult to earn except through transfers from Starwood Preferred Guest, clicking through their online shopping portal, or crediting revenue flights on Delta, American, or Alaska to the Mileage Plan program.

That's why under most circumstances it would be preferable to redeem easily-acquired British Airways Avios for Alaska Airlines award flights, rather than Alaska's own, more valuable, Mileage Plan miles.

Sample analysis

Here are the city pairs between which Alaska Airlines is charging 5,000 Mileage Plan miles one-way from August 30 to October 31, 2014 (note that all these fares work both ways):

  • Boise-Las Vegas
  • Boise-Salt Lake City
  • Los Angeles-Salt Lake City
  • Oakland-Seattle
  • Oakland-Portland
  • Portland-San Jose
  • Portland-San Francisco
  • Salt Lake City-San Francisco
  • Salt Lake City-San Jose
  • Salt Lake City-San Diego
  • San Francisco-Portland
  • San Francisco-Seattle
  • San Jose-Portland
  • San Jose-Seattle

Of these city pairs, can you guess how many are more than 650 miles, the cutoff for British Airways 4,500 Avios one-way awards?

If you said 3, you'd be exactly right: the 3 Bay Area airports (SFO, OAK, and SJC) clock in at just under 700 miles to Seattle, putting those flights in the 7,500 Avios price band.

The next set of city pairs cost 7,500 Mileage Plan miles during the promotional period:

  • Bellingham-San Francisco
  • Bellingham-Oakland
  • Boise-San Jose
  • Boise-San Francisco
  • Boise-Oakland
  • Oakland-Vancouver
  • San Francisco-Spokane
  • San Francisco-Vancouver
  • San Jose-Vancouver

What do you think? How do these discounts compare to a 7,500 Avios redemption, available year-round?

If you said they weren't any kind of discount at all, you'd only be 66% correct. That's because flights between Boise and the 3 Bay Area airports in fact cost just 4,500 Avios, clocking in at between 511 and 523 miles!

You get the picture.


I'll spare you the rest of the promotional city pairs (at the 10,000 and 12,500 Mileage Plan mile levels) and end with two thoughts.

First: there's nothing wrong with promotions like this. For folks who (rightly!) credit their revenue Delta and American Airlines tickets to Alaska's Mileage Plan, the ability to redeem those miles for short flights around the Western United States at a steep discount is a terrific opportunity, and I'm sure this promotion will be incredibly popular. The least valuable mile is the one you don't redeem, and if this promotion gets folks to redeem their miles for trips they want to take, it'll be an unqualified success.

Second: while this example involves small stakes – just a few thousand miles here or there – a rough background knowledge of airline partnerships like this will keep you from making shockingly expensive mistakes. The classic example is the couple who allegedly redeemed 2 million Starpoints for SPG Flights revenue First Class tickets to Australia on American Airlines — when they could have transferred just a few hundred thousand points to American and redeemed them for an AAnytime award!

Breaking: Iberia goes bizarre, British Airways award chart intact (for now)

About 12 hours ago, at 10:23 am, I sent out what seemed like an innocuous tweet:


"Did Iberia go revenue-based while I wasn't watching? Short domestic flights are pricing out astronomically"

Here's what I was referring to. While planning an award trip using some of the 100,000 British Airways Avios I earned during that short-lived signup bonus back in January, I wondered whether I might see different availability or cheaper taxes and fees if I transferred my British Airways Avios (through to Iberia.

Here's the itinerary I was looking at, in British Airways' booking engine:

This is an example of an itinerary that, since British Airways prices segments out individually, is a pretty good deal despite their policy of charging three times the price of coach for US domestic first class. It's two 13,500 Avios legs paired with two 4,500 Avios legs, for a total cost of 36,000 Avios, while the same itinerary would cost 50,000 AAdvantage miles or 65,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles.

Here's the same itinerary priced out with Iberia's award engine:

That's...weird. The same itinerary is pricing out cheaper using Iberia Avios than British Airways Avios (although the additional taxes and fees make British Airways the better deal overall).

But even weirder is that there's no reason, based on the award charts we all thought Iberia was using, for that odd number of Avios to be required at all.

Since Iberia only allows round-trip award reservations, I thought I'd see whether I got a similar result with a single-cabin reservation. Instead, it got weirder.

Here's a first class reservation between Madison and Chicago using British Airways Avios:

Just as we saw above, this roundtrip flight in first class prices out at 27,000 British Airways Avios.

Here's the same reservation priced out with Iberia Avios:

You read that right. The itinerary costs over twice as many miles using Iberia Avios (which, as a reminder, are freely transferrable to British Airways Avios).

For a final test, I thought I'd check the economy itinerary between Chicago and Lexington. Here's what British Airways shows me:

As you'd expect, the short round-trip itinerary prices out at 4,500 Avios each way.

Here's Iberia's pricing of the same award:

In this case, the economy itinerary costs almost three times as much using Iberia Avios!

The Explanation

As my Twitter follower @KennyBSAT was the first to point out, Iberia has quietly introduced what most bloggers this evening are calling a devaluation (see here, here, here, and here). They've already implemented a new award chart for partner award bookings, including American Airlines award bookings like the one I was booking today.

The new award chart will require close study, and as Gary points out, "long haul flying can be cheaper than using BA Avios."

The most interesting point my example above illustrates is that they appear to use a formula to weight mixed-cabin redemptions, such that adding short-haul economy legs radically reduces the total cost in Iberia Avios, sometimes below the cost in British Airways Avios. Since Iberia requires round-trip redemptions, it isn't obvious how to use this loophole to add a "third strike" to a reservation in order to drag down redemption costs. However, adding a short-haul economy flight to a long-haul business or first class flight may, as in my example, drastically reduce the number of Iberia Avios required for your award redemption.


Trust me: you'll be seeing a lot more analysis along these lines on all the most popular travel hacking blogs in the coming days and weeks. Potential arbitrage opportunities like these are the bread and butter of travel hackers, and I suspect a lot of discussions will be taking place on Twitter, as well as in the comments to this blog and others. Be sure to follow me @FreequentFlyr and check out my list of some of the best travel hacking feeds to make sure you're in the loop for this ongoing and guaranteed-to-be-lively discussion.

The Hilton smartphone app's best (new?) feature

I don't have a very high opinion of hotel smartphone apps. Frankly, I find them pretty annoying; they constantly require me to sign in with login credentials I can never remember, and all but the simplest room searches are typically impossible. I principally use them to check whether points have posted from my co-branded credit cards and revenue stays.

One bright spot is the Club Carlson app, which allows you to easily search for both award availability and "Points + Cash" availability. That's something that's easy to do each morning while I wait for hotels to open up rooms for award redemptions.

The best Hilton HHonors app innovation

I just noticed this change today and thought I'd pass it along, although it may have been implemented a few versions ago. Hilton has a lot of brands in their hotel portfolio, and each one has different benefits included in standard room rates or provided to HHonors elite members.

As confusing as those differences are, even worse is that the HHonors account management page is notoriously unreliable, so even if you understand the choices you need to make, you're still bound to run into problems trying to adjust all the relevant account settings.

Do you know the difference between a Hampton Inn & Suites and a Hilton Garden Inn?

Neither did I, until I opened the HHonors app and navigated to "My Account" and "Hotel Benefits." There, each brand is listed and you're able to easily select which of each brand's benefits you'd like on your next stay.

That's where I found out that breakfast is included at Hampton Inn & Suites, so as a Gold member I can choose between 250 HHonors points or a bottle of water and a snack with each stay, while at Hilton Garden Inn I have to choose between free daily hot breakfast or 750 HHonors points per stay.

When it matters

Travel hackers typically relish complicated loyalty rules: the more complications there are, the more loopholes are bound to pop up. But Hilton's hellish website and byzantine brand differences just never made it fun to learn the ins-and-outs of the program.

The app's simple interface now lets you easily make split-second decisions like: on a one-night stay at a Hilton Hotels & Resorts property, would I rather get breakfast in town or pocket 1,000 HHonors points? If, like me, you typically sleep through breakfast anyway when on vacation, the 1,000 HHonors points start to look tempting – and choosing them is now just a matter of tapping an in-app sliding button 24 hours before you check in.

Do this now: register for fall/winter Hilton and Marriott promotions

I've updated my Hotel Promotions page with information on two fall promotions announced so far. While neither promotion is particularly lucrative, it's crazy not to register for these promotions when they pop up, since it's hard to know in advance when a revenue night will end up making sense for your travel needs.

Hilton HHonors: double or triple base points

Between August 1 and October 31, 2014, earn double base points on paid weekday stays and triple base points on paid weekend stays. Register for the promotion here and find the (long) list of non-participating properties here.

Marriott Rewards: double points starting with second paid stay

Between September 15 and January 15, 2014, earn double Marriott Rewards points (up to 25,000 bonus points) starting with your second paid stay. Register for the promotion here.

Register now, before you forget.

MS for hotels: taking Matt at his word


This week I saw a lot of reactions to Drew at Travel is Free's post on manufacturing spend for hotel stays. Unfortunately, by looking only at the dollar cost of manufacturing spend, and not the opportunity cost, Drew left out the key fact that if you're not getting 2 or 2.2 cents per point when manufacturing spend on your co-branded credit cards, you'd be better off earning cash back and paying with cash for your stays.

Matt at Saverocity took advantage of that oversight to poke fun at Drew:

"Let me ask you a question… if I gave you $10,000 (plus fees) of my float and said. Come back with as many SPG points as you could, what would you do?

  • buy 285,715 points with the 10K?

  • buy 20x $500 cards with your SPG Amex and earn 10,000 points?

  • buy 20 x $500 cards with your 5x, earning $500 cash and use that to buy at 3.5cents each?[...

...]Option 2 (use the SPG) vs Option 3 (use a 5% and buy points) is the difference between earning 10,000 (SPG card) and 14,785 (14,285, plus the act of buying the would earn 500 more)."

Now, my readers know that this wasn't strictly speaking fair of Matt. Of course you should be putting as much spend as you can on your 5% cash back cards – until that spend is throttled.

But Matt's quip still got me thinking: are there co-branded credit cards that generate points that can't be bought more cheaply with a 5% cash back card?

Love for sale: buying hotel loyalty points

Here's the cost of buying hotel loyalty points from each program I follow (without any bonuses on purchased points):

  • Starwood Preferred Guest (up to 20,000 Starpoints per calendar year): 3.5 cents per Starpoint;
  • Hilton HHonors (up to 40,000 HHonors points annually): 1 cent per HHonors point;
  • Marriott Rewards (up to 50,000 Marriott Rewards points annually): 1.25 cents per Marriott rewards point;
  • Hyatt Gold Passport (up to 40,000 Gold Passport points annually): 2.4 cents per Hyatt Gold Passport point;
  • IHG Rewards Club (up to 40,000 IHG Rewards points annually): 1.15 cents per IHG Rewards point;
  • Club Carlson (up to 40,000 Gold Points annually): 0.7 cents per Gold Point.

Analysis: cash back versus co-branded credit cards

Remember, the question is: are there points that are cheaper to earn through manufacturing spend on a co-branded credit card than buying them with cash back earned with a 5% cash back credit card (within annual purchase limits)?

We can immediately rule out the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express and Chase Marriott Rewards, Hyatt Gold Passport, and IHG Rewards Club credit cards, all of which earn just 1 point per dollar spent. Earning 5% cash back, on the other hand, allows you to purchase:

  • 1.43 Starpoint (43% bonus);
  • 4 Marriott Rewards points (300% bonus);
  • 2.08 Hyatt Gold Passport points (108% bonus);
  • or 4.35 IHG points (335% bonus).

The US Bank Club Carlson Premier and Business cards, which earn 5 Gold Points per dollar spent everywhere, come closer to par, since you can buy just 7.14 Gold Points with a 5% cash back credit card – a 43% bonus, the same as purchased Starpoints.

Hilton HHonors for the (dubious) win

The only hotel program whose co-branded credit cards stand toe-to-toe with 5% cash back in this comparison is Hilton HHonors. The Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express earns 6 HHonors points per dollar spent at gas stations and grocery stores, while a 5% cash back card in the same categories would only allow you to purchase 5 HHonors points at 1 cent each.


As Matt correctly points out, this analysis is absurd: you'll virtually always be better off spending your 5% cash back on revenue rooms, rather than buying hotel points to redeem for the same or similar hotels. However, it is worth keeping in mind if you happen to be close to a hotel redemption (perhaps an expensive Starwood Nights & Flights or Marriott Hotel + Air vacation package) and are considering shifting some of your manufactured spend from your 5% cash back card to a co-branded hotel card in order to earn the remaining points. Except in the case of Hilton, that's a trap – keep earning 5% cash back and just buy the remaining points you need (or transfer them from a flexible points currency like Ultimate Rewards).

5 ways to unload OneVanilla cards without a trip to Walmart

Well, my post yesterday minimizing the changes to OneVanilla acceptance at Walmart did not win me any friends. Let's see if I can take another crack at it.

You're annoyed, nervous, confused, and frustrated by the strange errors you keep getting at Walmart, but love earning 5% cash back at pharmacies and gas stations that sell OneVanilla cards. Here are 5 ways to use OneVanilla prepaid debit cards that still work.

Amazon Payments

An Amazon Payments account can make up to $1,000 in outgoing payments per calendar month. I typically save that bandwidth till the end of the month, then use it to liquidate any odd amounts I still have lying around on prepaid cards or, if none, use it to hit high-spend thresholds or minimum spending requirements.

To keep from having a $1 hold placed on your OneVanilla card, use an incorrect expiration date when adding the card to Amazon Payments. After the card has been successfully added, change the expiration date to the one found on the card.

Evolve Money

OneVanilla cards can still be used on Evolve Money. Find your billers, start slow, making sure each payment posts correctly and on time, and enjoy.

Grocery store money orders

While often more expensive than Walmart's $0.70 money orders, and with lower limits, many grocery stores also allow PIN-enabled debit cards to be used to buy money orders. Take a walk around town to see which stores play along, although be careful: many grocery stores apply much more scrutiny to frequent, large transactions than Walmart does.

Load Serve cards at Family Dollar

Grab a Vanilla Reload Network reload card from the gift card rack, bring it to the front, let the cashier scan it, swipe your Serve card, choose the amount of your load and swipe your OneVanilla card. There's no fee.

Trade up and out

If you have local stores that accept debit, but not credit cards, for non-Vanilla PIN-enabled debit cards, you may find it worthwhile to buy Vanilla prepaid debit cards using a credit card and then convert them to non-Vanilla debit cards. Your costs will be higher, but the benefits may still outweigh those costs (paying, for example, $10.90 for $25.20 in cash back).

Using OneVanilla cards at Walmart has become (slightly) trickier

Over the weekend, a number of reports appeared of new problems encountered when users attempted to use OneVanilla prepaid debit cards at Walmart store locations. Now that I'm back from my quick vacation, I had a chance today to get over to Walmart and see what the fuss was all about.

Incidentally, I'm aware that there are multiple point-of-sale systems installed across the country and that individual stores and managers can impose their own restrictions, so my datapoints won't be relevant to everyone. This is not a conclusive study, it's a first glance at the situation, a workaround that worked for me, and some further observations.

The bad news is, the problems are real. The good news is, I found them to be pretty trivial.

Buy money orders "customer-first"

In my last post on Walmart point-of-sale system updates, I reported that:

It's now my belief that at some Walmart store locations with the new(est) software, split-tender transactions for money orders can still be processed "cashier first." Bill payment transactions, on the other hand, can only be processed "customer first."

Based on my experience today, I now believe that money orders must now also be processed "customer first," at least when using OneVanilla cards.

As a reminder, that means the customer must get all the way through to submitting their PIN before the cashier submits the amount of a split tender.

When my cashier submitted the amount of the split tender first, on the other hand, then after entering the OneVanilla card's PIN the system returned an "Alternative Payment Required" error.  

Problems with all-Vanilla transactions

After figuring out the above, I decided to see if I could buy a money order with only a single OneVanilla card. Even though I told the cashier to hold off on his end until after I had entered my PIN, the terminal still returned the "Alternative Payment Required" error.

While I may have been experiencing cashier error, out of an abundance of caution and laziness I'll continue combining Vanillas with other PIN-enabled cards, like my PayPal Debit MasterCards.

The final-swipe theory

The relevant FlyerTalk thread already has thousands of datapoints and plenty of speculation about why this particular brand of card causes us so much grief. One theory floated there that has a certain amount of charm to it is the idea that OneVanilla cards can't be used for the final swipe in a PIN-based transaction. That certainly fits with my experience above: when using a single OneVanilla card, it's inherently also the last card to be used and returns an error.

While it will require further experimentation, if the problem really is related to swipe order, a customer desperate to use exclusively OneVanilla cards (and not other PIN-enabled debit cards, like those sold at grocery stores or office supply stores) could use (up to 4) OneVanilla cards, while being sure to leave a small balance that could then be paid for with cash.


I'll obviously continue reporting if I see any further changes to the OneVanilla landscape, but for now, I'm remaining calm. I'll continue buying OneVanilla cards as long as it makes sense to do so, while being sure not to carry more than I can comfortably unload without Walmart, should the situation there suddenly worsen.

Meanwhile, I'd love to hear from readers: have you noticed any patterns in your recent OneVanilla successes and failures?

News from the front: TD Go and online Bluebird debit load limits

As I mentioned last week, I am currently traveling, hence the lighter-than-usual posting schedule. But there are two quick hits I want to share with readers before I head to the rodeo.

TD Go (slowly) sloughs off this mortal coil

As my regular readers know, I recently moved from a state where TD Go cards were issued to one where they are not. I conveniently forgot to change the billing address on my linked credit card, which gave me a few more months of cheap manufactured spend, but I'm now seeing reports (apologies to whoever posted it first) that starting September 3, TD Go cards will allow funding only from TD Bank-issued credit cards (which presumably won't award whatever rewards currency TD Bank is issuing these days).

While TD Go's $3,000 monthly load limit was a rounding error of manufactured spend, it was a cheap rounding error, and it will be missed.

Bluebird raises online debit load limits

In addition to a $2,500 daily and $5,000 calendar monthly cash load limits, American Express's Bluebird checking account alternative also allows $1,000 in monthly online debit loads.

Since the product was launched, the only way to reach that $1,000 monthly load limit has been through online loads capped at $100 per calendar day. While painless, those 10 online loads have always a bit of a recurring nuisance.

Responding, no doubt, to the plaintiff cries of travel hackers everywhere, American Express has raised those daily online debit load limits to $200.


Together with PayPal's move to calendar-monthly My Cash load limits and Bluebird's change to $2,500 daily cash load limits (from the previous, $1,000 daily load limit), the working travel hacker's life has been simplified immensely in just the past few weeks.

And the only sacrifice the travel hacking gods demanded was $3,000 in unbonused spend.

I'll take it.