Travel hacking is for lovers

At the beginning of the month I wrote up three techniques for manufacturing spend that

form a solid backbone of manufactured spend that is open to all US citizens and (I believe) virtually all resident aliens, as long as they have a tax ID number.

I got a lot of great responses and fielded a lot of questions about that post, but one question that came up a number of times was whether I could write a similar primer for those who aren't going it alone: techniques that are available to travel hackers with a partner, friend, or significant other who's willing to participate — at least to the extent necessary to score some free travel or cash rewards.

Of course, you can start by doubling the values I gave in that post, since your partner can sign up for accounts with all the same services you did. But there are other games which are better played together; let's now take a look at those.

Amazon Payments

This one's easy. You and your partner will need to enroll your respective Amazon accounts in the Amazon Payments service. After enrolling, one of you can send the other up to $1,000 each calendar month. I really like Amazon Payments not because it's insanely lucrative, but because it's insanely useful for making those odd-denomination purchases that periodically come up. For example, after being approved for the Chase British Airways Visa Signature and the Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage World MasterCard a few weeks ago, I made $1,511.85 in purchases on the former and $2,519.75 on the latter. To trigger the 50,000 mile signup bonus on each card, I needed to reach $2,000 and $3,000 in purchases, so I just "topped off" the accounts with purchases of $488.15 and $480.25, respectively, using Amazon Payments.

Warning: under no circumstances send money back and forth between the same two Amazon Payments accounts. All payments should flow in only one direction. Deal?

The Southwest Companion Pass

Your humble blogger does not fly Southwest. But that's neither here nor there: the Southwest companion pass is an amazing value if you do, and if you have a partner you travel with on a regular basis. If you're not familiar with it, it's even better than it sounds. Unlike the companion tickets you earn on each account anniversary with the Delta Platinum and Reserve American Express cards, the Companion Pass is exactly that: whenever you buy — or redeem miles for — a Southwest ticket, you have the option of including a free ticket for your designated companion as well (although you're still responsible for airport taxes and fees, I believe, up to $10 or so per ticket).

There is only one correct way to get the Southwest Companion Pass: wait for the periodic 50,000 point signup bonuses from the Chase Rapid Rewards Premier Visa and Business Credit Card (currently available). Then spend $2,000 on each card to secure the signup bonuses and $6,000 on one or both cards to get you the rest of the way to the 110,000 points needed to secure the Companion Pass for the rest of the current calendar year and all of the next calendar year. For obvious reasons you'll want to get the Pass as early in the current year as possible to maximize the length of your Pass's validity.

Southwest points are fixed-value, meaning they can be redeemed for any seat on any flight, but the number of points required depends on the cost of a paid seat on that particular flight. As a point of reference, advance "Wanna Get Away" fares cost 70 Southwest points per dollar, so each point is worth roughly 1.43 cents each for those fares. That means that if you plan to redeem your entire signup bonus for flights with your companion, those points are worth $1,430 (in Southwest "Wanna Get Away" fares), and the card earns about 2.86% (ditto) on all purchases.

For answers to questions it would never occur to me to ask, head over to The Points Guy and read their great FAQ.

US Bank Visa Buxx

Unlike the Nationwide Visa Buxx that I covered last time, US Bank more-or-less strictly enforces the requirement that the "parent" and "teen" identities you give when signing up do not match. However, they don't have any restrictions on the age of the "teen" user. That means whoever your partner is, he's eligible! Read more about the US Bank (and Nationwide) Visa Buxx card in the refresher course I wrote last fall. I've been using both cards with a 100% success rate since then, so I don't believe there have been any relevant changes (though read through the comments for some corrections to my inadvertent errors).


I've written a lot about Venmo since I've enjoyed using it with my Bank of America Alaska Airlines Debit Card (unfortunately no longer offered – existing cards will be retired in May, 2014). Using Venmo, you're allowed to send up to $3,000 per week using any true, bank-issued, checking-account-linked debit card.

In the travel hacking community we spend a lot of time talking about "PIN-enabled debit cards," but Venmo enforces a stricter standard than Walmart or Evolve Money. As far as I know (I'm sure you'll let me know in comments if I'm wrong), only real debit cards, linked to checking accounts, work with Venmo. That means your best options are the remaining mileage-earning debit cards. Here are the existing options that I know of:

Neither of the first two cards is perfect in the way the Bank of America Alaska Airlines debit card is: the Suntrust card has a high annual fee, and a bad reputation for shutting down accounts that are opened outside Suntrust's physical banking footprint, while the Bankoh card earns HawaiianMiles which, while they can be transferred to Hilton HHonors points at a 1 : 2 ratio, are not especially valuable for award redemptions. I'm prepared to be convinced otherwise, though — take a look at their award charts and let me know what I'm missing.

I know a lot of members of the community have had a lot of success with the ufb direct card, which I think is probably the best currently-available card to use with Venmo.


Travel hacking is a case study in synergy: the whole can be much more than the sum of its parts. The techniques above, plus authorized user cards when necessary, allow you to more than double your manufactured spend for each partner you add to your group. With new techniques being discovered every day, I truly believe that we are living in the golden age of travel hacking. Why not invite a friend?

Fidelity Investment Rewards vs. Priceline Rewards

[Updated 5/25/13: I no longer know of a working landing page for the Priceline Rewards card that displays the 2% cash back offer. However, this FatWallet Forums thread has a link to this application, and if you click on the "Terms and Conditions" at the top of the page you'll see that they still show "2 points per $1 spent on all other transactions."]

[Update 6/29/13: the link above is no longer working, which means the Priceline 2% cash back offer is now well and truly dead. If you know of a working application link, let me know!] 

The two best all-purpose cash back credit cards available today are the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express, which earns 2 points per dollar, worth 2% cash back when deposited to a Fidelity account, and the Priceline Rewards Visa, which earns 2 points per dollar spent on the card and allows you to redeem those points at 1 cent each for statement credits. Even better, neither card has an annual fee. Today, I'd like to clarify some of the important differences between the two cards.


  • The Fidelity Investment Rewards card is issued by FIA Card Services, the credit card division of the Fidelity investment bank.
  • The Priceline Rewards Visa is issued by Barclaycard US. 

Since the Fidelity card is not issued by American Express, you can apply for it at the same time as a credit or charge card issued by American Express, like the Premier Rewards Gold or Platinum Membership Rewards-earning cards, or a Starwood or Delta co-branded card, without an automatic rejection. 

Barclaycard also issues the Arrival World MasterCard (which I just received in April) so you probably won't be able to receive both that card and the Priceline Rewards Visa in the same application cycle.

Signup Bonus

  • The Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express does not have a signup bonus.
  • The Priceline Rewards Visa has a signup bonus of 5,000 bonus points after your first purchase, worth $50 in statement credits. 




Fewer merchants, especially small local merchants, accept American Express cards than Visa cards, although I find that besides at the smallest grocers and restaurants American Express cards are very widely accepted in the United States. 

If you use the US Bank or Nationwide Visa Buxx cards to manufacture spending, those products only allow you to load using Visa and MasterCard.

On the other hand, if you do much of your shopping at Costco you know that their stores accept only American Express cards.

Minimum Redemption

  • The minimum redemption for the Fidelity Investment Rewards card is 5,000 points, worth $50 in cash deposited to a Fidelity account.
  • The Priceline Rewards card allows a minimum redemption of 2,500 points against a charge of at least $25. No partial redemptions are allowed, meaning you must have enough points to redeem for the entire amount of the charge to your account.

Redemption Method

  • Fidelity allows you to set up automatic disbursements at the end of each month, or you can manually redeem your points for cash deposited to a Fidelity account.  In either case you must have at least 5,000 points, worth $50, in order to redeem them (however, there does not appear to be a maximum).
  • Priceline Rewards allows you to redeem your points for a statement credit against any charge made in the last 90 days.  Since you need to have enough points to cover the entire charge, the best method to make sure you don't have any points left over is to manufacture a transaction of exactly the right size. For example, if you send $1,000 per month using Amazon Payments, you can break that into one $950 transaction and one $50 transaction, which you can then redeem your Priceline Rewards points for.


The Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express and Priceline Rewards Visa are fairly evenly matched, being the only two no-fee cards I know of that offer 2% cash back on all purchases.

The Priceline Rewards card has a lower minimum redemption, and more widespread acceptance as a Visa card, but a slightly more complicated redemption method, which doesn't allow you to redeem your points for cash directly.