Quick hit: Visa Supplier Locator

A reader recently pointed out to me that last week over at Travel with Grant, Grant wrote that he noticed on his last US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards credit card statement the following curious text:

"Beginning March 1, 2016, the accelerated earn category of 'grocery' will be changed to 'grocery stores'. This may result in double FlexPoints not being awarded on transactions at discount/retail stores which may sell some groceries but do not primarily sell groceries."

Let me be clear: I have no idea what this means, and am not particularly inclined to speculate. We know when Chase Freedom cards bonus grocery store spend they specifically exclude Target and Walmart store locations, but in that cases they exclude Target and Walmart by name — they don't beat around the bush with "mays" and "may nots."

But it does give me an excuse to remind readers about one of my favorite tools: the Visa Supplier Locator.

Look up an individual store's Industry/MCC code with the Visa Supplier Locator

Many stores, even stores which belong to national chains, have different MCC codes depending on the way their credit card processing accounts were configured. There are patterns, but those patterns aren't particularly interesting since you can look up the MCC code of any individual store using the Visa Supplier Locator.

Those MCC codes determine, under most circumstances, whether you'll receive bonus points on Visa and MasterCard credit cards that bonus purchases made in specific categories. If a Visa or MasterCard credit card bonuses purchases at gas stations, you want MCC 5541 — SERVICE STATIONS. Drug stores and pharmacies? That's 5912 — DRUG STORES & PHARMACIES.

And if you're using your Flexperks Travel Rewards credit card at grocery stores in a given statement cycle (each month you should decide between gas stations and grocery stores), you'll want to look out for 5411 — GROCERY STORES/SUPERMARKETS.


We should find out in the first week or two of March what, if anything, the change to the Flexperks Travel Rewards "grocery store" bonus category really entails.

But in the meantime, do yourself a favor: take 20 minutes and look for some undiscovered bonused earning gems near you!

Buying Broadway tickets (is expensive)

On Tuesday I wrote that I was going to New York to see Hamilton, the smash hit Broadway musical. Commenter BetterByDesign astutely asked,

"How the heck did you find Hamilton tickets? Or did you just throw cash into the venture?"

Long story short, I just threw cash into the venture. There are ways to save money on Broadway tickets, but not as many as I'd like.

TKTS for when you don't care what you see

If you're already in New York City, you can head down to the TKTS ticket booth on Times Square (lines can be very long at this booth), the South Street Seaport, or in Brooklyn. They offer discounted tickets to same-day shows on an as-available basis.

If you're just in New York for a weekend, you are going to be stuck with whatever tickets TKTS has available, since there's no way to predict which shows will be offering tickets on a given day.

I've seen some great shows using TKTS, like A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder (Tony award for Best Musical in 2014) and Pippin (Tony award for Best Revival of a Musical in 2013).

Full price box office tickets

If you want to see a popular show and live in New York, you can buy full price tickets from theatre box offices (TKTS also sells full price tickets for future performances). Popular shows sell out far in advance, but you can save hundreds of dollars by paying the face value of your tickets rather than buying them on the resale market.

The resale market

If you don't live in New York and have a particular show you want to see, that leaves the resale market. There are many resale sites, and many of them charge additional administrative fees which can add up to hundreds of dollars. However, most of the sites carry the same inventory, as resellers upload the same ticket to multiple sites to increase their chances of making a sale (sounds familiar, right?).

Having said that, this was my general strategy for paying the lowest price for our Hamilton tickets.

Use SeatGeek to find the cheapest reseller

SeatGeak is a ticket-reselling aggregator, which shows prices available on a range of other ticket reselling sites. They will sell you tickets themselves, but they will also tell you on which other ticket reselling site the tickets were found. For example, here are some tickets available for the January 9, 2016, evening performance of Hamilton:

In this example you can see SeatGeek is listing tickets for sale on:

  • uberseat
  • ravetix.com
  • TN Direct
  • Prime Entertainment

You'll also see tickets sold on FanXchange, TicketCity, and other reselling sites.

Find out how much the tickets are reselling for on the original reselling site

After you've selected a few promising seats, you'll want to see how much the tickets are actually selling for on the original reselling site. In the example above, SeatGeek shows the cheapest ticket as $314 at uberseat.

On uberseat's website, the cheapest tickets price out at just $268:

Sure, you can save some money cutting out SeatGeek, but there's another reason to go directly to the reseller's website: SeatGeek doesn't participate in cash back portals.

Search your favorite cashback portal for payout rates

Here are the ticket resellers that I easily found participating in TopCashBack:

  • ScoreBig. 12% cash back, $30 off purchases of $250 or more in October using code "trickortreat"
  • TicketLiquidator. 12.5% cash back, $10 off purchases of $350 or more using code "TLFALL"
  • TicketCity. 3% cash back.
  • VenueKings.com. 13% cash back, $4.99 off purchases of $40 or more using code "TRICKORTREAT5"
  • PurchaseTix. $9% cash back.


You're never going to make money buying tickets on reselling sites, but using these techniques you can start to get your ticket prices down into the ballpark of full price box office tickets.

Personally, since Delta was paying for our tickets to New York City, I ended up splurging a little bit and buying orchestra seats for Hamilton, but if you're planning far enough in advance and don't care where you sit, you can use these techniques to pay under $200 per ticket for mezzanine seats, for the hottest show of the year!

Pro tip: flying as a dual Alaska-Delta elite

I've written before about my transition this year from Delta Platinum Medallion to Alaska MVP Gold 75K status. In short, I couldn't justify crediting my paid Delta flights to the SkyMiles program now that they've moved to revenue-based earning and voodoo-based redemption.

My Alaska Mileage Plan elite status means I can freely choose between American- and Delta-operated flights, which is a huge luxury when pricing out paid itineraries.

Given similar-enough prices and convenience, however, I'll typically choose Delta for my paid flights because they run a fantastic airline. But while I earn elite-qualifying and redeemable miles in Alaska's Mileage Plan for those flights, I don't get free Comfort+ seating or free checked bags, and that's not ideal.

For that reason, I also keep Delta Silver Medallion status. Here's how I leverage the two elite statuses.

Don't request Medallion Complimentary Upgrades

If you book a paid reservation through a third-party booking engine like the US Bank Flexperks site and add a SkyMiles number, your Medallion Complimentary Upgrade will be automatically requested.

That's a problem because once a Medallion Complimentary Upgrade has been requested, you won't be able to remove your SkyMiles number from the reservation.

After booking the ticket, you'll need to manually add your SkyMiles number.

If you're buying a ticket directly from Delta, you can simply uncheck the "Request Upgrade" box during booking.

If you did accidentally request an upgrade, you'll need to contact Delta to cancel the request (this is not an unusual request; often couples or business travelers want or need to be seated in the same cabin).

Check in with your SkyMiles number

24 hours before departure, Silver Medallions can request free Comfort+ seats (higher-level Medallions can request them earlier).

If you're checking a bag, you'll also need to drop your bags off at the airport while your SkyMiles number is attached to the reservation in order to avoid checked bag fees.

Remove your SkyMiles number and add your Mileage Plan number

I've had mixed success asking airport agents to remove my SkyMiles number from reservations after check-in. But fortunately, it's simple to do online, as long as you haven't requested an upgrade. Just access your reservation (in the app this is called "Trip Details") and click "Remove" next to your SkyMiles number. Then add your Mileage Plan number. The website will automatically add 3 leading zeroes, but in the app you'll need to type them in yourself, so your Mileage Plan number is a total of 12 digits long.

Reprint your boarding passes

This isn't strictly necessary, but as a precaution I always fly on boarding passes showing my Mileage Plan number and elite status.

Final note

Obviously for the sake of convenience it's easier to do this on one-way rather than round-trip reservations, since the more times you have to remove and add frequent flyer numbers, the higher the chance of something going wrong, either on your side on in Delta's reservations system. If I were checking a bag on a roundtrip reservation, I might even consider simply leaving my Mileage Plan number attached to the reservation and paying the checked bag fee, in order to ensure proper crediting to my Mileage Plan account.

Pro tip: Did Uber turn off "Gifts" in your account? Ask them to turn it back on!

Back in November I wrote about a trick I like to use now that the Barclaycard Arrival+ card allows Arrival+ miles to be redeemed against taxi purchases: buying Uber credit in "redeemable" $25 chunks, so that Arrival+ miles can be redeemed against Uber rides even when a single ride doesn't exceed $25 (which is fairly common in my experience).

A few weeks ago I noticed that the "Gifts" link had disappeared from the top-left corner of my Uber homepage. I remembered that back when American Express was offering $10 off any Uber purchase of $25 or more, many folks didn't have the option of buying gift cards, but that they were able to e-mail Uber to turn the feature on.

While I'd never heard of anyone losing the option to buy gift credit, I passed along that information to a curious reader, who reported back that Uber was able to re-enable the "Gifts" option in his account.

So yesterday I sent an e-mail to support@uber.com from the e-mail address linked to my account, writing:

"I used to have the option of buying electronic gift cards in my Uber account, but the option seems to have disappeared in the last week or so. Can that option be re-enabled?"

About 10 minutes later, I received the following reply:

"Thanks for writing in! I'm happy to set you up with gift card access so you can give the gift of Uber to someone special.

"If you log into your account on our website you will see a link at the top that says Gifts. From there you can purchase Uber credits in increments of of $25, $50, $100, and $250. You'll be able to purchase gift cards in USD that can be redeemed and used in the US. Please be careful to only hit the Place Orderbutton once."

So there you have it: if you're interested in buying Uber credit in "redeemable" chunks, but the option has disappeared from your account, just drop a line to support@uber.com and they seem more than willing to re-enable it.

Buy Uber credit in "redeemable" chunks

Back in October, Uber and American Express were offering a $10 credit when you spent $10 or more on Uber using a linked American Express card. That was great if you were planning to take one (or many more) eligible Uber rides by December 31, but it was also possible to prepay future Uber rides at a steep discount by using linked American Express cards to buy Uber gift credit (and applying it to your own account).

The catch was that Uber only allows gift credit to be purchased in increments of $25. While that was enough to trigger the American Express statement credit, Uber doesn't let you split payment for gift credit, meaning you were still stuck paying $15 out of pocket for your $25 in Uber credit.

Last weekend in San Antonio I ended up taking quite a few Uber rides, and was glad that I had "overpaid" for my Uber credits. Why? Because my Uber rides in San Antonio were cheap:

Two of my rides fell under $10, and wouldn't have triggered the $10 statement credit if I'd paid with an American Express card. Interestingly, another fell below $25, meaning it wouldn't even have been eligible for redemption if I'd paid with my Barclaycard Arrival+ MasterCard. As it turned out, my Uber balance (after referral credits) was applied dollar-for-dollar to those fares, and I was able to capture the entire 40% discount by prepaying.

Prepay your Uber rides, $25 at a time

By now readers can no doubt see where this is going. By pre-funding your Uber account with $25 gift credit, purchased with the Arrival+ MasterCard, you can guarantee that every ride you take – no matter how short – is eligible for Arrival+ redemption. Since each credit card transaction will be exactly $25, the minimum Arrival+ redemption, you can squeeze the maximum value from an Arrival+ balance of any size.


Before my faithful readers flood the comments to chastise me for passing over the myriad ways Uber has invited its service to be "gamed" by travel hackers willing to color outside the lines, let me assure you that I am fully aware of this. This post is not about those techniques: it's for folks who use Uber, pay for their rides, and want to do so in the most efficient method possible.

Oh, and here's the obligatory Uber referral link.

Status match to Alaska MVP Gold 75K? Don't forget to nominate an MVP!

Last month I reminded my readers who are abandoning Delta and United next year to request a status match to the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, which will continue to award redeemable miles based on distance flown — including on the same Delta flights that would earn revenue-based miles if credited to a Delta Skymiles account!

As a Delta Platinum Medallion, I was matched to Alaska's top-tier MVP Gold 75K status, which has a host of incredible benefits, like being able to redeposit any revenue ticket into your "travel bank" for use on future travel (a benefit shared with MVP Gold).

Some benefits, as you might guess, are only available to members who earn MVP status through flying, rather than a status match. For example, I didn't have 50,000 bonus miles deposited into my account when I was matched to MVP Gold 75K!

Another benefit of MVP Gold 75K status is the ability to nominate another Mileage Plan member to Alaska's bottom-tier MVP status. At first I assumed that, like the bonus mile award, this benefit was limited to members who had earned their status through flying.

Last weekend in San Antonio, however, a colleague shared that he had no problem matching his wife to MVP status. Sure enough, after a little poking around on Alaska's website, I was able to find the nomination form (log into your Mileage Plan account first to access the form).

While my partner has Delta Silver Medallion status and thus could theoretically request her own status match to Alaska MVP status, there are two advantages to instead nominating her from my account. First, there is a 0% chance she would ever actually request her own status match. Second, status matches are limited to once per lifetime, so it's strictly speaking preferable to preserve hers in case a more lucrative future opportunity comes along.

Although, as the old joke goes, "once per lifetime? Mine, or the airline's?"

Pro tip: finding information on this site

My goal when starting this blog was to write the kind of blog I would want to read, and part of that project has been the fact that I almost never repeat the same information twice. If I were an affiliate blogger I might find excuses to repeat the same tired cliches, but since my only goal is to write the best blog I can possibly write, I'm content with explaining just once why Club Carlson points are so valuable.

One drawback to this approach is that new readers may not realize that their questions have already been answered here on the blog, so they end up asking the same questions or making mistakes that could be avoided if they knew better.

This is surely especially common for readers who subscribe to the blog's RSS feed or have each new post e-mailed to them, rather than reading them on my actual website. Those readers may miss two powerful tools to find additional information about topics that interest them: the search field and tags.

"My blog has a search function"

I feel like I say this at least once a week on Twitter to readers who don't immediately understand something that I'm trying to sum up in 140 characters. If you have a question about a topic like freezing your IDA and ARS credit reports, you can pop over to the search field found at the top of the sidebar on every page, and type in "IDA." The first hit will tell you step-by-step how to freeze your IDA and ARS credit reports before applying for US Bank credit cards.

Almost every post is tagged

Sometime the search field won't get you the precise information you're looking for. At times like that, you can also search for "tags." If you're reading a post about a topic that's interesting, you can click on one of the tags at the bottom of that post to find more about the same topics. If you already know what topic you're looking for, for example all posts about Club Carlson, you can also do a command/ctrl-F search for the bank, card, or product you're interested in, and click the entry in the seemingly-endless list of tags found at the bottom of the sidebar on each page:

I have no idea by what principle these tags are ordered, but the important thing is they're easily searched for and found.

Most, but not all, of my posts are more-or-less meticulously tagged, so if you can't find information using one method, you might have more success trying the other.


It sometimes seems that some of my readers think I have some incredible secrets I'm saving for myself, while in truth virtually everything I know is here on the blog. I simply don't have any interest in rehashing techniques that I've already covered and that have changed little in the intervening months or years. Learning about those techniques is as simple as exploring the multiple tools (in addition to Google!) I've provided for your convenience.

Update: Marriott bonus nights and application timing

Two weeks ago I wrote up a technique for achieving Marriott Gold elite status through manufactured spending that's slightly more convoluted but much cheaper than the straightforward method described by Frequent Miler. That post drew a lot of terrific comments from readers, and since I know many readers get my posts by e-mail or in RSS readers and may not have checked out that follow-up conversation, I want to provide a quick update.

Three moving parts for Marriott elite status

The hack I described takes advantage of three facts:

  • Elite status, once earned during a calendar year, is good for the remainder of that year and the entire following calendar year;
  • Elite-qualifying nights earned in excess of your earned status are rolled over and count towards the following calendar year's elite-qualifying night total;
  • The Chase Marriott Rewards Premier credit card gives 15 elite-qualifying nights per year.

By noting all three of these facts, I realized that it's possible to spend your way to Gold (not Platinum) elite status every two years, instead of attempting to requalify for Gold status by earning 50 elite-qualifying nights each calendar year.

The (not so) fatal flaw

Unfortunately, my commenters noted a potentially devastating problem with this plan, based on a nuance of the Premier credit card's bonus nights: the 15 elite-qualifying nights are not credited at the beginning of the calendar year, but rather together with the card's anniversary statement each year! Since my hack depended on using the bonus nights to qualify every other year, in the "requalification year" cardholders have to make do with Silver elite status until their anniversary month arrives.

Timing Marriott Rewards Premier credit card applications

In other words, if you are interested in this trick, the absolute worst day for your anniversary statement to close is December 31: you get just one year of Gold elite status every two years.

On the other hand, the best possible day for your anniversary statement to close is January 1: in this case, the trick would work exactly as I originally described.

Personally, my anniversary statement is in April, so I'm closer to the winning end of that spectrum. Some readers complained that their anniversaries are in October, which strips a lot of the value from the technique.

If you already have the Premier card, but have a bum anniversary month, I don't see any easy way to get on board with this technique. Canceling the card and reapplying (without a signup bonus) would be a tough credit pull to justify.

But if you don't already have the Premier card and are interested in getting it someday, make that day early in January!

Use rollover nights to earn Marriott Gold elite status

Continued experiments with posting schedule

As long as I've been writing this blog, I've posted on an extremely irregular schedule: my own. Typically, I get home from manufacturing spend, plop down at the desk and write about whatever I've been thinking about. When I'm done writing, I push "publish."

During Subscription Week, I started scheduling the "classic" posts from my archive on a specific schedule; I'd write up a post the night before and schedule it to post at 6 am (wherever Squarespace is based – in another hilarious shortcoming they don't tell you the timezone you're scheduled to post in).

I think there are advantages to both methods: I write in order to be read, so it makes sense to publish posts as soon as they're ready so folks can start reading them. On the other hand, I notice that when I publish posts late at night or very early in the morning there's more of an immediate response in the comments, since a lot of readers check my site first thing in the morning. If I publish in the afternoon, it might be 16-20 hours before readers finally get around to my posts.

At any rate, I'm going to keep the experiment going and schedule non-time-sensitive posts like today's to publish at 6 am. Meanwhile, I'll continue to publish urgent and time-sensitive posts as soon at they're ready. As always, I'd love to hear feedback one way or the other in the comments.

If you're going to manufacture Marriott Gold elite status, do it right

I mooted this idea on Twitter a few weeks back, and was reminded of it by Frequent Miler's recent post on manufacturing Marriott elite status.

Most folks know the headline benefits of the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa Signature: an annual free night certificate good at Category 1-5 Marriot properties; 15 "bonus" nights annually towards elite status; and an additional "bonus" night for every $3,000 spent on the card each calendar year.

Frequent Miler did a little math and came up with the figure of $105,000 in spend each year to earn Gold elite status: 35 elite nights at $3,000 each.

But in focusing on those headline benefits, he missed the forest for the trees. The key to manufacturing Marriott Gold elite status with the Premier card is rollover elite qualifying nights.

Marriott has a generous rollover night benefit: every night in excess of those needed for your current elite status are rolled over to the next elite qualifying year. But since Silver elite status requires just 10 nights, and the Premier Visa Signature gives 15 bonus nights towards elite status, Silver elite cardholders receive an automatic 5-night rollover "bump" towards Gold status at the beginning of each elite qualification year.

Keep Gold elite status for 2 full calendar years – then do it again

Since elite status, once earned, is good for the remainder of the year it's earned and the entire following year, you don't want to manufacture spend all the way to Gold elite status: you want to end the year with between 45 and 49 elite qualifying nights. In January, you'll rollover 35-39 of those nights (the amount in excess of Silver's 10-night requirement), and your 15 bonus nights will make you an instant Gold elite – for 2 full calendar years.

To keep your Gold elite status, you need to end the second calendar year of elite status again with exactly 45 elite qualifying nights – in other words, earn 30 elite qualifying nights over the course of 2 years. That's just $45,000 per calendar year, rather than the $105,000 Frequent Miler suggested – or less than $4,000 per month in Premier credit card spend, even if you don't have a single paid night.

Unfortunately, this technique can't be used as easily to earn Platinum elite status, for the simple reason that Platinum status requires just 25 more elite qualifying nights than Gold, so the most nights you could roll over to the next year and remain a Gold elite is 24. You'd then still have to manufacture your way all the way from 39 to 75 nights, spending $108,000 as early in the year as possible.


While I've noticed my bonus nights roll over in the past, this is the first year I'm attempting to achieve Gold elite status with this technique, so there may well be something I'm missing. Naturally, I'll post an update in January after my rollover and bonus nights are credited. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from readers who have succeeded (or failed!) in earning elite status this way.

Quick update: online American Express credit reallocation

A number of readers have commented in response to my original post back in June that the steps I described there for moving credit lines between accounts no longer worked; the option to "Transfer Available Credit to Another Card," present back in June, has since disappeared from the "Manage Credit Limit" console.

Rather than continue the discussion there, I thought it was worth writing a quick update to point out that Flyertalker yugi recently shared a working link directly to American Express's credit reallocation page.

To access the page, you'll need to first log into your American Express account, then open this working link.

It's unclear to me whether the page was left up intentionally or not, so it may not be available for long; if you need to reallocate your available credit, I'd take advantage of the opportunity as quickly as possible.

As a reminder, all the restrictions I wrote about in this post still apply: the card "contributing" credit has to be open for at least 12 months; credit lines can only be reallocated between consumer cards and from consumer cards to business cards (not vice versa); and you can only move "available" credit (so pay off your card before attempting to move a credit line from it).