Connecting the dots: Chase Ink Visas back on top

[update 2/6/14: please see my post on Upromise Investments]

I mentioned a few months ago that I was planning to finally get a Chase Ink Bold card, which would allow me to earn bonus points at local convenience store locations categorized by Visa as gas stations.

Ultimately that plan was short-circuited in my impromptu January application cycle, when I jumped on a 100,000 Avios offer from the Chase British Airways Visa card.

I've had a tortured relationship with the Chase Ink Bold card: in principle, its earning rate at gas stations (2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar) and office supply stores (5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar) should make it one of the most lucrative cards available. In practice, every time I think I have a new source of gas station reload cards and gift cards, it's slammed shut by a register re-coding or employee re-training.

Meanwhile, while $200 Visa gift cards from office supply stores, with an activation fee of $6.95, allow you to buy Ultimate Rewards points at a cost of 0.67 cents each, liquidating those cards has traditionally required either using up valuable Bluebird reload space or buying inefficiently small money orders and bill payments.

Finally, since the United devaluation it's become increasing difficult to value Ultimate Rewards points at the 1.89 cents necessary to justify buying them for 0.67 cents each when you can buy Barclaycard Arrival miles, worth 1.11 cents, for just 0.39 cents each. (Explanation: 1.89 / 1.11 = 0.67 / 0.39).

Events have conspired to change that calculation, and again make the Chase Ink Bold Visa one of the most unimaginably lucrative cards on the market today.

Visa Savings Edge

Visa Savings Edge is a program that allows you to earn cash back in the form of statement credits on your account whenever you make eligible purchases at participating merchants. As Frequent Miler pointed out yesterday, Staples is one of those participating merchants. The offer reads:

Save 1% when you make a qualifying purchase of $200 or more with your enrolled Visa Business card in store or on Save on thousands of products for your small business at Staples. From coffee to cleaning supplies and technology to business services, you’ll find everything you need to keep your business running. Now get 1% back via statement credit on all purchases at Staples® when you use your enrolled Visa® Business Card.

That means a $200 Visa gift card, rather than costing $6.95, will cost just $4.88, bringing the break-even value of Ultimate Rewards points down to 1.35.


Of course, as I mentioned yesterday in my trip report, Staples also participates in Plink, allowing you to earn $3 in Amazon credit every time you spend $60 or more at Staples. If you consider Amazon credit "as good as cash," you'll end up paying just $1.88 each time you buy a $200 Visa gift card – just 0.18 cents per Ultimate Reward point (up to 10 purchases per 30 days, per the terms of the Plink offer).

Liquidate Using Evolve Money

Finally, the last concern above, that liquidating $200 Visa gift cards is awkward, inefficient, and impractical, has been put to rest by the vast liquidation capacity of Evolve Money. If you take advantage only of the most lucrative version of this deal, combining both Visa Savings Edge and Plink, you'll have just $2,000 in gift cards to liquidate every 30 days. Since Evolve Money has plenty of legitimate payees, like utilities, insurance companies, phone companies, etc., $2,000 seems like an eminently reasonable amount to push through each month – especially when buying those gift cards is this unbelievably lucrative.

Honorable Mention: Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa

While the card itself doesn't bonus office supply store purchases, the Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa does earn 5 Club Carlson Gold Points on all purchases, which I've argued can in some cases be worth up to 1 cent each. The card can likewise be registered through Visa Savings Edge and through Plink, allowing you to pay the same 0.18 cents per point as with the Chase Ink cards.

A quick update on affiliate links & how to support the site

Back in June I wrote a post about being approved for affiliate links through one of the many credit card marketing companies out there. They had a terrible selection of credit cards and signup offers, but their links for the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard and Discover it cards were as good as the best available offers, so I went ahead and changed my links on this site to those affiliate links.

Long story short, I never made any money, and then they fired me.

I bring this up now because they recently got back in touch with me and told me to remove the links that I had put on various pages and blog posts. Weirdly, it turns out that a large number of the different credit card affiliate marketers on the internet are all owned by the same people,

So I removed all those links too.  If you happen to notice any changes to where my links direct you, it's because they should all now point to the applications hosted by the credit card companies themselves (unless there's a better offer available elsewhere).

The affiliate link thing was an interesting experiment, but it was pretty much doomed to fail since there was no way I was ever going to change my website or style in order to secure more signups or meet their requirements for affiliates.

How can you support the site?

This leaves the question of what you can do to support the site, if you're so inclined, and I'll be floating some ideas and asking for feedback as I approach my 1-year anniversary, when I need to decide whether to renew this project for another year.

If you haven't already then you can first and foremost buy or borrow my Kindle ebook, The Free-quent Flyer's Manifesto. If you really can't come up with $2.99 to buy the book, but have an Amazon Prime account, don't worry, I also get a small royalty when the book is borrowed, and it doesn't cost you anything!

If you've already bought or borrowed the ebook, please consider leaving a review. I absolutely love hearing from readers by e-mail and in the comment threads, and it would be terrific if you can share what you think with even more people by leaving a review on Amazon.

Finally, there are a few signup links scattered around the website:

Some of the most popular cash back portals offer referral credit as well:

Thanks again to everyone who has supported the site. I adore my readers, and hope that together we can keep this project going for a long time to come!


Plink: it works, but changes are coming

I've mentioned a few times here on the blog a new retail marketing program called Plink, which works a little like the dining rewards programs operated by several airlines (and the Upromise cashback system). With dining programs, you can typically register up to 6 or so credit and debit cards, and then each time you make a purchase at a participating restaurant, you earn some number of airline miles or cash back.

Plink works slightly differently, in that you register a card by entering your online banking login information. Plink then identifies your eligible cards with that bank and you can select a single card (instead of 6 or more), where your eligible purchases will be recorded.

If you think this seems to have a lot of disadvantages over dining rewards programs, you'd be right. I'm writing about it because it also has a few advantages.

First of all, Plink has a wider array of retailers than just restaurants. Most importantly for me, it gives $2.50 worth of Plink points for each purchase of $25 or more at 7-11 store locations – including store locations coded as gas stations on Visa and MasterCard credit cards.

Now, ordinarily the temptation is to make purchases as close as possible to the eligibility threshold (in this case, $25) in order to maximize the rebate value of your rewards. However, since PayPal My Cash and Vanilla Reload Network reload cards have a flat reload fee of $3.95 per card, you're only reducing your cost per dollar of manufactured spend, not actually making money, through this technique so there's no advantage to splitting your purchases up.

Changing your registered card account is easy

Thanks to the Discover it and Chase Freedom "gas station" Quarter 3 bonus categories, I bought a lot of PayPal My Cash cards at 7-11 this quarter. And I can happily report that changing the card you have registered to your Plink account is easy and instantaneous. I had to register my Discover, Chase, and Bank of America accounts this quarter, and the change went through without a hitch. However, be sure that your points have posted from all your transactions so far before changing your linked credit card.

Problems with points posting 

As I indicated in the title of this post: Plink works, earned points post, and they can be redeemed for Amazon gift cards almost instantly (you have to wait for an e-mail from their gift card contractor).

However, I did run into one problem with my points posting: when I made two 7-11 purchases using a Bank of America credit card on the same day, apparently Plink was not able to differentiate the charges in my Bank of America account transaction history, and I only received Plink points for one of them. 

For that reason I've stopped making multiple 7-11 purchases with a Plink-linked card on the same day, and since then all my points have posted correctly.

Changes coming

Unfortunately, starting September 23, 2013 7-11 purchases will only earn 150 Plink points (worth $1.50 when you have earned enough points to make a redemption – 500 is the current minimum) on purchases over $20. This is a transparent attempt to pay out less to those who have been taking full advantage of the current payout rates. However, those 150 Plink points will still reduce your cost per dollar of manufactured spend to 0.49 cents, from 0.78 cents – better than a hole in the head. If you're able to liquidate PayPal My Cash cards using a 1% cash back PayPal Debit MasterCard, that will bring your CPD down to 0.27 cents.

Now I've seen everything: PayPal accounts restored

Somebody smarter than me is going to have to explain this one.

I reported earlier this week  that one of my favorite hacks had been abruptly shut down when PayPal closed both my business account (which had a linked 1% cash back debit MasterCard) and my personal account (which I was using to funnel PayPal Cash cards to my business account). By calling into PayPal I was able to withdraw my remaining funds to a linked checking account, and I moved on.

That is, until Thursday afternoon, when I received the most remarkable e-mail: 

And then just one minute later:

I immediately checked, and the first e-mail was sent to my personal account's linked address as well. Having been given this reprieve, what do I plan on doing with it? What do you think?

But this time, I'm taking some simple steps to minimize my risk going forward:

    • I immediately applied for an additional 1% cash back debit MasterCard for my second, personal account. No more sending money back and forth between my PayPal accounts.
    • I'm going to empty my account exclusively with my debit MasterCard, primarily by buying Vanilla Reload Network reload cards at CVS. This will reduce my cost per dollar of manufactured spend to 0.57 cents (0.07 cents after taking Plink rewards into account).
    • And obviously, I'm going to empty my account as quickly as possible after loading it. 

    Besides the possibility of buying PayPal Cash cards at 7-11 store locations, what I'm most excited about is renewed access to Kiva. Now that I have a US Bank Cash+ card, I'll be happy to earn $100 in cash on the first day of every quarter, plus as many Flexpoints as I have short-term liquidity.

    Remember to check in on Monday and all next week, when I'll be describing a new technique that will radically accelerate the points-earning potential of even the most casual travel hacker, and giving detailed analyses of the possibilities unlocked by that new technique. You don't want to miss it.