My version of the co-branded paradox

I was listening to the latest episode of the new Milenomics² podcast, which everyone should subscribe to, and sign up for bonus Patreon content from, and the hosts brought up what they call the “co-branded paradox.” By this they mean the counter-intuitive way that even if you like staying at Hyatt properties, or like flying on Delta, your best bet for a credit card to use on everyday spend is probably not a Hyatt or Delta co-branded credit card.

That’s for the simple reason that while those cards may offer other worthwhile benefits, they actually earn points at a lower rate than other available options. A Chase World of Hyatt credit card may be worth carrying for the annual free night, but for non-bonused spend you’d be better off using a Freedom Unlimited card, which earns 50% more Ultimate Rewards points. At restaurants, the World of Hyatt card earns 2 points per dollar, but so does the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which allows you to transfer your points to Hyatt or any of Chase’s other transfer partners.

Likewise, you might want to carry a Delta Platinum card for the annual companion ticket or to take advantage of free checked bags, but that card only earns 1 SkyMile per dollar spent, while a no-annual fee Amex EveryDay earns 1.2 Membership Rewards points everywhere when you use the card 20 times per month (and the $95 EveryDay Preferred earns 1.5 points everywhere when you use it 30 times per month).

This is even more true in the case of products like the Chase IHG Rewards Club credit cards, which earn just 1 point per dollar spent on unbonused purchases: the more you value IHG Rewards Club points, the less you should be willing to spend on their co-branded credit cards, for the simple reason that a simple 2% cash back credit card earns almost 3 points per dollar, given that points can be purchased year-round for 0.7 cents or less.

All this produces a simple conclusion: get co-branded credit cards if you like their benefits, but don’t use them for actual purchases, where you can earn more points, more valuable points, or both using other products.

This is fine as far as it goes, but I actually think the logic of the co-branded paradox can be taken one step further.

Put everyday purchases on the card that earns the least useful rewards

What listening to the Milenomics podcast got me thinking about was the fact that most frequent travelers are usually already optimizing their earning of their most useful loyalty currencies. If you’re a paid business traveler that likes flying on United, you’re already earning United miles every time you fly. The fact that you like flying United shouldn’t encourage you to earn more United miles because your paid travel is already taking care of that. Likewise if you’re spending 55 nights a year at Hyatt properties for work, you’re likely already earning somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 points per year, plus two annual free nights (at the 30-night and 55-night thresholds) and any points earned from seasonal promotions.

To me, this is the real co-branded paradox: if your paid travel and manufactured spend are already optimized around the most useful rewards currencies, then your everyday spend should be going to the least useful rewards currencies, the ones that are nice to have lying around but that you don’t count on for your major travel needs.

A few examples off the top of my head:

  • Barclaycard Choice Privileges Visa. If you’re like me, you don’t stay at Choice Hotels properties very often. But when you do want to stay at a Choice Hotel, you can get terrific value from having a handful of Choice Privileges points lying around.

  • Bank of America Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard. This is another card that doesn’t make any sense to put hundreds of thousands of dollars in spend on, but if you do like to occasionally ride on Amtrak, you might like to have 20 or 30 thousand points kicking around so you don’t have to pay cash for what would be an especially high-value redemption, like 2.9 cent-per-point long-haul sleeper accommodations.

  • US Bank Radisson Rewards cards. I don’t carry any of these cards anymore because, with the exception of the Radisson Blu Aqua in Chicago, I have mostly found Radisson properties to be trash heaps. However, if you do still carry any of these cards due to their anniversary point bonanzas, you might also consider using them for everyday spend, earning as they do 5 points per dollar on unbonused spend.

Conclusion

Of course in one sense I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek: obviously you shouldn’t prioritize earning less-useful currencies over more-useful currencies. But this is another way of expressing my long-standing observation that people really are inclined to earn too much, and redeem too little, of the currencies they consider most valuable. If there’s one good thing about the end of the Starwood Preferred Guest program it will be that we won’t have to listen to people complain that Starpoints are “too valuable to redeem” ever again!

If you’re maxing out a couple of Ink Plus cards at office supply stores every year and sitting on a million Ultimate Rewards points already, then I think it can make perfect sense to put away the Freedom Unlimited card when you go out to eat and pulling out something a little more exotic. Not because Amtrak Guest Rewards points are more valuable than Ultimate Rewards points in the abstract, but because they might be more valuable to you at the frontier you are personally operating at.

More digging under the hood of Choice Privileges

The difficult thing about writing about Choice Privileges is that they have so many properties it can be tough to know precisely where to focus: the 6,000-point Quality Inn in Wilsonville, Oregon, the 30,000-point Port Inn Kennebunk in Maine, the 35,000-point Quality Hotel View in Malmo, Sweden, or the 55,000-point "Preferred Hotels & Resorts" Myconian Naia in Mykonos, Greece?

That being said, let's see what we can say about the value proposition of the program as a whole.

The Choice Privileges Visa Signature Card has a strong earning rate on unbonused spend

Barclaycard used to issue Wyndham Rewards credit cards that earned two points per dollar spent everywhere. Before 2015, that wasn't particularly remarkable: Hilton Honors cards earn 3 points per dollar spent everywhere, Marriott Rewards cards will soon offer 2 points per dollar spent everywhere, and so on. The important question is always a card's earning rate compared to the cost of redemptions you actually want to make. But in 2015, that changed: all Wyndham properties now cost 15,000 points per night, which means legacy cardholders can stay at any Wyndham in the world for just $7,500 in unbonused spend.

While Choice Privileges isn't as generous as Wyndham, they do have a "flatter" rewards structure than many other programs:

  • a bottom-tier Choice Privileges property costs 6,000 points, or $3,000 in unbonused spend, while a bottom-tier Hilton property costs 10,000 points ($3,333 in unbonused spend) and a bottom-tier Marriott property costs 7,500 points ($3,750 in unbonused spend).
  • a top-tier standard Choice property, which I consider the equivalent of a mid-tier Hilton or Marriott property, costs 35,000 points, or $17,500 in unbonused spend, while a mid-tier Hilton property costs 40,000-60,000 points ($13,333-$20,000 in spend) and a mid-tier Marriott property costs roughly 30,000 points ($15,000 in spend).
  • the most expensive Preferred Hotels & Resorts properties cost 55,000 Choice Privileges points ($27,500 in spend), while top-tier Hilton properties cost 95,000 points ($31,667 in spend) and peak top-tier Marriott properties will eventually cost 100,000 points ($50,000 in spend).

I want to note that in this analysis I'm actually tilting the playing field slightly away from Choice. There are New York City properties (in Brooklyn, not New Jersey) that are bookable today for 6,000 Choice Privileges points per night, and in Manhattan for as little as 12,000 points per night. Neither Marriott nor Hilton offer anything like those rates, with Marriott starting at 35,000 and Hilton starting at 70,000 points per night.

Earnings on paid stays are relatively weak

The Barclays Choice Privileges Visa earns 5 points per dollar spent at Choice Privileges properties, or 2.5 times the unbonused earning rate. Compare that to:

  • 4 points per dollar spent at Hyatt properties with the Chase World of Hyatt credit card (4 times the unbonused rate);
  • 12 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties with the American Express Hilton Honors Ascend card (4 times the unbonused rate);
  • 6 points per dollar spent at Marriott properties with the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus and Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards (3 times the unbonused rate).

Unless you're fully committed to Choice Privileges as your primary hotel program, you're almost certainly better off putting paid stays on a more valuable card like a Chase Ink Plus that earns 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on hotel stays, or charging your paid stays to a cashback card like the Bank of America Travel Rewards card with Platinum Honors Preferred Rewards status.

Choice is currently running a timeshare scam you might want to get in on

Like many hotel chains, Choice operates a "vacation ownership" (timeshare) company as well, and you can redeem your Choice Privileges points at those properties. They're currently running a promotion at 6 of those properties where you can redeem 16,000 points for a two-night stay (which would otherwise cost 32,000 points) and receive a $50 MasterCard gift card, in exchange for sitting through a 2-hour sales pitch and going on a tour.

I don't see any limitations on participation (as long as you're 25 years old), so I think you could theoretically visit all 6 properties at the discounted rate and earn $300 in gift cards for your trouble.

Conclusion

Choice Privileges is the first program I've considered adding to my travel hacking practice in a long time. I've mostly been happy using a combination of Chase Ultimate Rewards, US Bank Flexpoints, and Hilton Honors for virtually all of my travel. However, I think adding Choice Privileges to my arsenal will help fill in the gaps where Hyatt properties aren't available and Hilton offers only their standard 0.5 cent per point redemptions, allowing me to save those points for higher-value luxury redemptions.

I'm not terribly impressed with most of Choice's brands, but even focusing exclusively on their Ascend and Cambria hotels, putting $10,000 or so per month of spend on their no-annual-fee co-branded credit card will open up access to a vast number of properties offering outstanding imputed redemption values. Fortunately, I've always had a good relationship with Barclays, so I'm optimistic I won't have any trouble getting approved with a decent credit line.

Foreign airline co-branded credit cards, #8: Conclusions

Reviewing the 7 foreign airline co-branded credit cards issued by US banks that I covered in this series, the cards can be handily arranged into 3 groups:

  • Cards worth getting and keeping for manufactured spend;
  • Cards worth getting for the signup bonus and cancelling;
  • Cards that are probably not worth getting.

Manufactured spend powerhouses

When looking at a card's value for manufacturing spend, it's essential to look at both the earning and redemption rates the card offers. For example, a Marriott Rewards point is more valuable than a Hilton Honors point, but not 6 times more valuable — that makes a dollar spent in a bonus category with the Hilton Honors Surpass American Express more valuable than the same dollar spent with a Marriott Rewards credit card that earns just 1 point per dollar.

Similarly, the two co-branded credit cards in this series that are valuable for ongoing spend are the US Bank AeroMexico Visa cards and the Barclaycard Asiana Visa Signature card. The former earns 3.2 AeroMexico kilometers per dollar spent at gas stations and grocery stores, which can be redeemed on SkyTeam carriers (with fuel surcharges) and the latter earns 2 Asiana miles per dollar spent in the same categories, which can be redeemed on Star Alliance carriers and their non-alliance partners.

It's especially worth noting that the recent increases in Delta redemption rates on SkyTeam partners make it even more likely that redeeming other SkyTeam partner miles, even ones that pass along fuel surcharges, will be more valuable than earning and redeeming Delta SkyMiles.

Valuable signup bonuses

Three of the cards I covered in this series have signup bonuses you might find valuable, depending on your situation:

  • The British Airways Visa Signature card earns 100,000 total bonus Avios after spending $20,000 on the card within one year. Those Avios can be extremely valuable if redeemed on US flights without fuel surcharges or on certain off-peak sweet spots.
  • The Miles & More World Elite MasterCard offers 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 within 90 days, which can be extremely valuable for domestic first class redemptions, including to Hawaii.
  • The "Black" Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard offers 75,000 Flying Club miles after spending $12,000 within 6 months and adding two authorized users. If nothing else, those miles can be moved to Hilton Honors points at a 1:1.5 ratio, earning you 9.4 Honors points per dollar on unbonused spend.

Cards that are worthless, or at least worth less

Finally, the LANPASS Visa Signature Card and SKYPASS Visa Signature Card, both from US Bank, offer minimal signup bonuses and weak earning rates, so even in the case of SKYPASS, where points can be valuable on certain routes, their co-branded credit card is unlikely to be the most efficient way to earn them. However, it's worth being aware of the cards and their potential redemption opportunities in case the signup bonuses on either card are temporarily or permanently increased.

Foreign airline co-branded credit cards issued by American banks, #5: Lufthansa Miles & More by Barclaycard

The Barclaycard Miles & More World Elite MasterCard is today's entry in my analysis of foreign airline co-branded credit cards issued by US banks.

Lufthansa Miles & More by Barclaycard

Barclaycard issues one co-branded credit card that earns Lufthansa Miles & More miles:

  • the Miles & More World Elite MasterCard has an $89 annual fee (not waived the first year) and a signup bonus of 20,000 Miles & More miles after your first purchase and 30,000 additional miles after spending $5,000 within 90 days of account opening. It earns one mile per dollar spent everywhere and 2 miles per dollar spent at "integrated airline partners:" Adria Airways, AirDolomiti, Austrian Airlines Group, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Lufthansa Regional, Lufthansa Private Jet, Luxair and SWISS. The card also earns an annual Economy Class Companion Ticket, including one after your first purchase with the card, and gives you the option of converting 25,000 award miles into 5,000 status miles each calendar year.

Economy Class Companion Ticket

Unfortunately, unless you're booking at the last minute and have no choice but to fly on Lufthansa, the Economy Class Companion Ticket is unlikely to be of any value at all. That's for two reasons: it can only be redeemed for tickets in Lufthansa's most expensive economy fare classes (H, M, Y, and B), and it requires you to pay all the taxes and fees associated with a paid ticket.

Under most circumstances, the additional cost of booking into a higher fare class will exceed the fare savings provided by the Companion Ticket. However, on last-minute bookings where only H, M, Y, and B fare classes are available, and when Lufthansa is your only option, it's certainly possible that the Companion Ticket could provide quite substantial savings.

Status Miles Conversion

Another benefit of holding the Barclaycard credit card is the ability to convert up to 25,000 award miles into elite-qualifying miles at a 5:1 ratio. There do not seem to me to be any clear advantages to doing so, since the opportunity isn't scalable in order to actually achieve Miles & More elite status, which requires 35,000 elite-qualifying miles. Converted status miles also don't count towards Lufthansa's top-tier HON Circle status.

Earning Miles & More Miles

Besides integrated airline partners the Barclaycard credit card doesn't earn bonus miles for any categories of spend, so unless you're topping up a Miles & More account towards a redemption it's unlikely to be worth putting any purchases on the card after you've triggered the signup bonus.

If you need to top up your account, you'll get a better earning ratio transferring Starpoints in 20,000-Starpoint increments and earning 5,000 bonus Miles & More miles than you will putting additional unbonused spend on their Barclaycard credit card.

Redeeming Miles & More Miles

Lufthansa belongs to the Star Alliance and offers a few popular redemption opportunities:

  • domestic first class awards within any one country, including the United States, cost 17,000 miles one-way. If you can find award availability (good luck!) you can redeem the same 17,000 Miles & More miles for United's transcontinental premium service;
  • Lufthansa first class awards from Europe for 85,000 miles. Miles & More passes along fuel surcharges on award tickets, but those surcharges are significantly lower on flights from Europe to the United States than in the opposite direction. For flights from Frankfurt to San Francisco, fuel surcharges run about $224, while in the opposite direction they're about $478. The key advantage of booking such flights with Miles & More miles is expanded award available compared to booking with partner miles.

Germany is a rich, populous country and Lufthansa is a big global airline, so as you'd expect there's a fair amount of material out there if you want to research additional routes that offer particularly good values. Drew at Travel is Free has documented some great routes without fuel surcharges, and this apparently-abandoned English-language German blog has some additional and some overlapping suggestions.

Is it worth it?

The current 50,000-mile signup bonus is the highest I've see it go, and after spending $5,000 on the card the resulting 55,000 miles would be enough for 3 one-way domestic first class flights. Another 30,000 miles (25,000 transferred Starpoints) would get you a one-way flight from Europe in Lufthansa first class, with increased access to award seats compared to redemptions of partner award miles.

On the other hand, since Miles & More passes along fuel surcharges, it's a relatively poor currency to accumulate speculatively. Before signing up for this card take a look at some of the best Miles & More redemptions linked to above and see if any of them fit into your near-term travel plans. If not, this is unlikely to be the right card for you.

Yet another loyalty program trap: airline companion tickets

In the last few weeks I've done a bit of a deep dive into the annual free night certificates offered by various co-branded hotel credit cards (IHG (and here), Marriott, Hyatt), with the general theme that a single annual free night certificate has to be looked at in the framework of your overall miles, points, and travel strategy.

For example, a $75 Hyatt free night certificate can either save you 8,000 Ultimate Rewards points if redeemed as part of a short Category 2 stay (good deal!), or cost you tens of thousands of Ultimate Rewards points if you let its presence in your account convince you to spend your vacation at a Category 4 Hyatt property rather than, for example, a Club Carlson property where your last night (or every other night, depending on your credit card portfolio) is free.

In other words, it's not enough to say the Hyatt Visa Signature credit card gives a free night when you pay the $75 annual fee. That "free" night might be very cheap or very expensive, depending on your travel plans and overall miles and points strategy.

Are airline companion tickets too good to be true?

Many airline co-branded credit cards offer an annual companion ticket, which are (with a few important exceptions) valid for economy travel in the continental United States and Canada, on flights operated by the issuing airline (excluding their partners and, in US Airways' case, their own sister airline American).

Here's a quick glance at some of those companion tickets:

  • Barclaycard US Airways MasterCard (for new and current cardholders in 2015 only): $99 plus taxes and fees for each of up to two companions traveling with the cardholder, when the cardholder purchases an economy ticket fare of $250 or more. Valid in the continental United States and Canada. $89 annual fee. You must pay with your US Airways MasterCard.
  • Barclaycard American Airlines Aviator Silver MasterCard (beginning in the second quarter of 2015): $99 plus taxes and fees for each of up to two companions traveling with the cardholder, when the cardholder purchases a ticket for $250 or more. The cardholder must spend $30,000 each cardmember year to receive the companion tickets. $195 annual fee.
  • Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature: $121 for one companion to travel with the cardholder, when the cardholder purchases any economy ticket. Valid systemwide on flights operated by Alaska Airlines. $75 annual fee. The primary cardholder must be traveling or the ticket must be booked with a card in the primary cardholder's name.
  • American Express Delta Platinum (economy) and Reserve (economy or first): pay only the taxes and fees for your companion when purchasing a ticket in eligible fare classes. Valid in the continental United States and Canada, except for residents of Hawaii, who can originate there. $195 (Platinum) or $450 (Reserve) annual fee. The terms and conditions state that the ticket must be paid for with your American Express Delta Platinum or Reserve card, although a reader reported that he was able to use a different American Express card.
  • Chase British Airways Visa: you pay only the taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges for a second award ticket in any class of service booked entirely on British Airways-operated flights, originating in the United States. $95 annual fee. The primary cardholder must be traveling.

Who are companion tickets right for?

I often write that there are only two reasons to even consider using travel-rewards-earning credit cards, rather than earning a straight 2% cash back using a card like the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express:

  • You travel for work and have reimbursable business expenses;
  • Or you manufacture spend furiously.

That's because even if you (not unreasonably) value Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, or Citi ThankYou points at more than 1 cent each, you have to earn a huge number of them to "make up" the $95, $175, or $450 annual fees incurred by premium rewards-earning credit cards.

The same logic applies to companion tickets. If you're reimbursed by your business or employer for your travel expenses, then the annual fees of these credit cards really might be cheap methods for bringing a travel companion on a domestic trip with you.

That's because when the cost of the revenue ticket is taken out of the equation, the credit card annual fees may be a relatively small fraction of the cost of paying for a second revenue ticket: $217 (Delta Platinum) is 25% of a $868 ticket, $210 (US Airways) is 25% of a $840 ticket, $196 (Alaska) is 25% of a $784 ticket. While those hypothetical prices are currently high for leisure fares (I haven't paid $784 for a domestic ticket in years), if your travel companion wants to come with you on a route heavy with business travelers, they're not inconceivable.

The problem with companion tickets

With that out of the way we can come to the crux of the problem: companion tickets are a bad deal because they require you to purchase a revenue ticket directly from the airline.

And if you're a travel hacker, that's vanishingly unlikely to be the cheapest method of buying tickets — even revenue tickets. Leaving award tickets completely aside, here are a handful of straightforward methods for buying revenue tickets on the cheap:

  • Redeem US Bank Flexpoints at up to 2 cents each, earned at up to 3 Flexpoints per dollar spent on charity. Maximum discount: 83.3%.
  • Redeem Citi ThankYou points at up to 1.6 cents each on American Airlines or US Airways flights, earned at up to 3 ThankYou points per dollar spent at gas stations. Maximum discount: 83.7%.
  • Redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points at up to 1.25 cents each, earned at up to 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at office supply stores. Maximum discount: 46.3%.

Compare that to a revenue ticket purchased directly from the airline, and a companion ticket paid for with your annual fee plus any required taxes, fees, or co-pays. Even the unusually high prices I cited above (with savings of 75% on the companion ticket compared to revenue fares) produce savings of just 37.5% when you're forced to buy the first ticket at retail price.

Exceptions worth considering

While the Bank of America Alaska Airlines companion ticket and the British Airways Travel Together ticket do have to be booked directly with their respective airlines (over the phone, in both cases), the terms and conditions of the tickets do not require them to be booked with the corresponding credit card. That means you can use a Barclaycard Arrival+ card to pay for both tickets, potentially securing a discount comparable to what you'd get booking using a more lucrative points currency.

Personally I prefer to use my Arrival+ miles for non-chain hotels and taxi and Uber rides, but if you're earning them cheaply enough, an Alaska Airlines or British Airways companion ticket might make sense — again, depending on your own miles and points strategy.

Using my Barclaycard Arrival+ PIN in Italy

If you're a citizen of the United States, the Barclaycard Arrival+ card is likely the only "chip and PIN" card you carry. These cards are popular outside of the United States, but for economic and historical reasons they have not and, in my only-slightly-educated opinion, likely will never dominate the credit card market in the United States: plans by several issuers to issue chip and PIN cards have already fallen through; merchants have no interest in buying new equipment; and Americans just don't travel internationally very much!

But Barclaycard issues one, and it happens to be a card lucrative enough (because of the 10% points rebate on travel redemptions) that many travel hackers carry it.

Set your PIN online

One thing I didn't realize until I received my chip and PIN card is that the PIN is not hard-coded onto the chip. My understanding was that US-based issuers were resistant to adopting chip and PIN technology because their customers would be frustrated if they had to memorize a different PIN for each card. But with Barclaycard, you can set your PIN to the same number you use for all your other cards (and your phone, and your bank accounts, and your home security system...), and you can do it online.

Just go to "Account settings" in your online account and look for "Manage your PIN:"

Use your PIN at unattended kiosks

I used my PIN exactly twice in Italy: buying a train ticket from Milan's Malpensa airport into town, and buying a train ticket from Rome's Termini train station to Fiumicino airport. Both times were at unattended kiosks: I inserted my card, left it in the slot until prompted for my PIN, entered my PIN, then withdrew my card when prompted.

I had read a few posts around the blogosphere suggesting that the first time a card is used abroad, the cardholder has to sign the purchase in order to "activate" the card's PIN. That's completely incorrect: the first purchase I made on arrival in Milan was a PIN transaction at an unattended train station kiosk.

Sign everywhere else

I was surprised to find that every other merchant we visited in Italy had signature-compatible terminals. Some of the merchants themselves seemed surprised when the receipt printed with a blank space for my "firma," but we had no issues with acceptance.

This won't be true everywhere: I've visited Russian grocery stores that flatly refused to process signature transactions, so you still shouldn't travel abroad relying completely on your credit cards.

Bonus: Bluebird is still awesome for foreign ATM withdrawals

I mentioned this once before during a trip to the Czech Republic, but Bluebird is still a slam dunk for ATM withdrawals while traveling abroad.

I withdrew 200 euros twice at ATM's, and the total charges to my Bluebird account were $240.48 and $238.98, including all ATM fees. That gives exchange rates of 1.202 and 1.195 euro per US dollar, both within 2% of the financial market rates on the days in question (according to xe.com).

It's hard for consumers to exchange currency at the prevailing market rates, and ATM fees can add substantially to currency exchange costs, while Bluebird offers exchange rates very close to market rates, along with flat international ATM fees. Unfortunately, not all ATM's are configured to process American Express withdrawals, so it may take some trial and error to find ATM's you can use your Bluebird card at (my card was rejected at one of the ATM's I tried).

Observations on the banks and their quirks

Despite the fact that here in America we have a more or less centralized banking system, each bank still interfaces with that backbone (the Automated Clearing House, Visa and MasterCard payment networks, etc.) using its own proprietary software. That leads to the various banks processing identical transactions on different timetables. Nothing in this post is scripture, but I thought it might be interesting to share my observations on the quirks of each bank, as I've observed them, and invite readers to share their own experiences in the comments.

These observations are based on obsessively logging into all my bank accounts multiple times each day, both on PC and smartphone. If you don't obsessively watch your accounts, you probably won't notice any of these differences, since they don't have any impact on the important stuff like statement balances or due dates.

American Express

American Express clears transactions the fastest among any of the banks whose cards I carry: they'll typically post the second business day after a purchase.

When making a payment, my "available credit" will typically increase on the day the payment is scheduled to be received, while my "outstanding balance" will decrease only the following day.

Rewards typically post to third party accounts about a day after statement closing, while my Blue Cash seems to take up to 2 days (based on a very small number of statements to date).

Barclaycard

Barclaycard clears transactions typically within 3-4 business days, I haven't observed them to be particularly fast or slow.

Payments post in the opposite manner of American Express: my outstanding balance will go down in the evening of the day a payment is scheduled to post, but my available credit won't go up until the following business day.

One of the many reasons I love the Barclaycard Arrival (now Arrival+) is that rewards post mid-cycle. Interestingly, in my experience they tend to post the evening before a charge actually clears on my online account. This can lead to some confusion about whether miles are the results of a charge posting or RewardsBoost shopping portal miles posting, because the pending charge disappears completely overnight, before reappearing as cleared the following day.

US Bank

US Bank is the opposite of American Express: charges take the absolute longest to post of any of my credit cards, at least 4 business days and sometimes up to 5.

However, I've been able to use this to my advantage, because of the other quirk of US Bank compared to my other credit card issuers: US Bank reports my balances to credit bureaux on the last day of the month, not on statement closing, while rewards are naturally based on all the charges during my statement cycle. That means I can drive down my balances before the end of the month with charges that will post before my statement closing date. I'm unable to truly maximize this quirk because my statement closing date happens to fall at the beginning of the month. If you have a mid-month closing date, however, you could easily avoid having any of your spend ever show up on your credit reports.

All of my US Bank credit cards are without a preset spending limit, so I'm not sure when credit becomes available again after a payment. However, payments usually show up online the day after a payment is scheduled to arrive, with the correct posting date.

Chase

Chase is absolutely vanilla compared to these other card issuers. Charges clear within 3-4 days, and payments post on schedule (although they don't show up in online banking until the following day). Ultimate Rewards points post towards the evening of the day my statements become available, while third-party rewards (Avios) can take 2-3 days to post.

I also use my Chase cards least aggressively of all my rewards-earning credit cards, so my experience may simply be a consequence of basing my conclusions on fewer datapoints.

Conclusion

Do these quirks jibe with your own experiences?

Have you observed similar quirks with other card issuers, like Comenity, GE Capital, or FIA Card Services?

Quick update: my impromptu January application cycle

[update 1/11/14: I never got around to calling Chase about my British Airways application, but today I saw that it had been added to my online accounts with a $2,000 credit line.]

Yesterday I announced that in honor of the 5% cash back "old" Blue Cash card still being available, I was moving my next round of applications up from the beginning of February. That meant scrounging around for the best, currently-available, signup bonuses. Unfortunately, the Alaska Airlines offer I wrote about in my "perfect storm" post is no longer available. Here's what I ended up applying for:

  1. American Express "old" Blue Cash. No signup bonus, no minimum spend requirement, no annual fee. 5% cash back at drug stores after spending $6,500 each year. Result: immediate online approval, $1,000 credit limit.
  2. Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage World MasterCard. 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months. Result: approval after calling the "status check" number, (888) 201-4523, $3,000 credit limit.
  3. Barclaycard US Airways MasterCard. 35,000 miles after first purchase. Result: immediate online approval, $1,000 credit limit.
  4. Chase British Airways Visa Signature. 100,000 miles after spending $20,000 within 12 months. Result: application pending. I called into the application status line today, (800)-436-7927, but have still been unable to get a decision or shuffle my credit limits around to secure approval. I'll wait and call back on Monday.

As you can see, because this application cycle was impromptu, I didn't have a chance to massage my credit by making sure all my credit card statements closed with a low or zero balance. My day-to-day high utilization rate negatively impacts my score between application cycles, making me look less credit-worthy (even though I always pay off my balances in full).

However, this doesn't bother me. I intend to only use the US Airways card once, to secure the signup bonus, and spend just $3,000 on the American Airlines card, so those low credit limits aren't a problem.

The $1,000 credit limit on the Blue Cash card, on the other hand, would be an issue except for the fact that American Express makes it easy to shuffle your credit limits between cards, so I'll be able to move all but a small part of my $10,000 Hilton HHonors American Express credit limit over to my new Blue Cash card (this is only possible within personal and business cards, not between them). That'll give me more than enough room to manufacture spend on my new 5% cash back card.

All in all, I'm pleased with the results of this application cycle, and hopefully I'll get approval for my British Airways application in the next day or two, possibly after moving part of my credit limit over from my Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

Check your e-mail for lucrative Barclaycard promotions

Barclaycard seems to be running a pretty consistent promotion across many of their proprietary and co-branded credit cards, offering 5 bonus miles/points/whatever per dollar spent for "gas station, restaurant or department, toy or game store purchases" between October 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013. You can earn up to 2,500 bonus miles this way (on up to $500 in purchases).

You must receive an e-mail about the promotion in order to be eligible, because registration for the promotion is through a link in that e-mail. I received the promotional e-mail for my Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard, which means I'll earn 7 Arrival miles per dollar spent at gas stations – an easy category for manufacturing spend. 3,500 Arrival Miles are worth $38.50 in statement credits against travel purchases, thanks to the 10% rebate on travel redemptions.

Mommy Points reported an identical promotion for her US Airways MasterCard and one of her readers reported it for the NFL Extra Points Visa Signature.

Since these bonus categories don't have anything to do with each other, I hope that this is an effort by BarclayCard to get into the quarterly bonus game and that we'll see more (and more lucrative) promotions like this in the future.