Latest posts

My experience with ITA Airways Volare status on other SkyTeam carriers

In the middle of 2022, I got Volare status on ITA Airways through a status match program they were running. Since then, I’ve found very limited use of this status.

Through my Volare Club Premium status, I’m supposed to have access to SkyTeam Elite Plus benefits. However, as of December 31, 2022, I have not been able to use them on Delta Air Lines.

Today, on the first day of 2023, I checked to see if I could put in my ITA Airways loyalty number into my Delta account. To my pleasant surprise, it looked like it was possible. Throughout most of 2022, neither an Alitalia nor an ITA Airways option was available on this page.

Unfortunately, if you try to input your loyalty number, it won’t actually save. It told me “Error occurred while updating Other Loyalty Programs of customer.”

Just to be sure this was an issue only related to ITA Airways, I put in my Flying Blue number, which had no problems saving.

It doesn’t seem like they check the loyalty number for validity, but it doesn’t even appear that ITA Airways loyalty numbers can be saved at this point.

When I tried booking a flight, the results were even worse. I was able to add my Flying Blue number to my booking, and it even checked the validity of my number. When I tried putting in my Volare number, however, it would simply refuse to accept it, saying my name is not associated with this frequent flyer number.

Up until this point, I had only been able to use my Volare status once—at the KLM Crown Lounge at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Even then, since my Volare number was not associated with my ticket, I had to go and manually show my Volare status to the lounge staff, who then manually stamped a KLM Crown Lounge admission pass on the back of my boarding pass in order to allow me inside.

It’s pretty disappointing that my ITA Airways Volare status is still not accepted on Delta. I would fly them a lot more if I could use my SkyTeam Elite Plus benefits with them. Up to this point, only manual intervention has allowed me to enjoy these benefits at the KLM Crown Lounge. I doubt that things will get better for the next few months.

The best travel-size toothpaste for carry-ons

We all know that whenever we’re flying, we have to adhere to the annoying 3-1-1 liquids carry-on rules. I used to think that meant I could only bring small, travel-size toothpaste (only carrying about 0.85 oz in the container) like the below:

Believe it or not, those little travel size toothpaste bottles that contain almost no toothpaste inside are not the largest that you can stow inside your carry-on. Plus, they can cost over $1 per tube, which is a huge rip-off.

Instead, you can find great toothpaste deals like the following I got from Walmart. It only cost 89¢ and it’s 2.5 oz, which is significantly under the 3.4 oz limit set forth by the TSA. 2.5 oz will last you for a few months on the road.

This is one of the largest TSA 3-1-1-compliant toothpaste tubes you can get!

Will this fit inside a quart-sized bag? You bet it does.

Not only does this 2.5 oz tube easily fit inside a quart-sized bag, it also goes with plenty of other items you may wish to take with you.

Next time you fly, ditch the rip-off travel-size toothpaste and buy an inexpensive tube at a local supermarket.

How I’m requalifying for AAdvantage Platinum for 2023

Starting for the 2023 qualification year, AAdvantage qualification is based on how many AAdvantage base miles you earn, which count as what’s called Loyalty Points. It doesn’t matter how many segments or miles you actually fly; it essentially only matters how many miles you earn, which is essentially a function of how much you spend.

So far, I’ve earned just under 45,000 Loyalty Points this year. To requalify for AAdvantage Platinum, I’d need to earn an additional 30,000 LPs by February 28, 2023. There’s not much time to earn this, and I have a lot more points to go before I can even requalify. So, how am I going to do it?

Earning Loyalty Points on the ground

It turns out there’s a bunch of ways to earn Loyalty Points beyond flying on American Airlines or their partner airlines.

Other ways include:

  • Earning miles by making purchases on AAdvantage credit cards
  • SimplyMiles
  • AAdvantage eShopping
  • AAdvantage Dining
  • Rocketmiles

There are more ways, but the above are the most commonly used methods.

It turns out the best way to earn efficiently among the above methods is to use Rocketmiles, and that’s what I’ll be using to reach my requalification threshold.

How I’ll earn 80% of the remaining miles via Rocketmiles

I’ve planned on doing a quick 3-night stay, where I’ll take a 4 day retreat. For this retreat, I’ll be staying at a nice Hilton Garden Inn with nightly prices that are reasonable for the area. For a total of $760, I’ll be getting 3 nights plus 18,000 AAdvantage base miles. That puts me already 60% through my remaining miles I need.

Earning the rest of the miles

The remaining points will be earned through another Rocketmiles stay earning a more modest 6,000 AAdvantage miles, as well as enough flights that should cover the remaining 6,000 miles I need. I expect to requalify for Platinum after my February 8 trip on Alaska Airlines.

Take a look at my below calculations on an Excel sheet I made, powered by a bunch of VLOOKUP and IF functions:

That’s right: I expect to barely requalify with only 1,803 Loyalty Points over the threshold. That’s cutting it a bit close, but if my calculations are off by a lot, I’ll be booking a mattress run on Rocketmiles as soon as possible in order to get to 75,000 Loyalty Points by February 28.

I just turned 18. How do I get a credit card?

If you just turned 18, congratulations! Now that you can legally get a credit card under your name, it’s time to consider getting your first credit card.

While it’s not as simple as going online and finding whatever credit card you want and getting approved for it, here’s a simple, no-nonsense path. People may claim there is no one-size-fits-all path, but in this case, there pretty much is…

(By the way, I want to make it very clear that I’m not getting paid to say any of this.)

Why can’t I just use a debit card?

Debit cards are like throwing away money because you don’t get rewards from spending on a debit card, whereas for credit cards, you do get rewards, even if the credit card doesn’t have an annual fee. Read this article for more info: Why you should never use a debit card ever again

Also, a debit card doesn’t help you build your credit score, whereas your credit card will.

Which credit card should I first apply for?

To make things simple, pick between one of these three cards. Only one. (Trust me, you can wait to apply for many, many more better credit cards later.)

  • Discover it® Student Cash Back
  • Discover it® Student Chrome
  • Chase Freedom Student (Visa)

Why isn’t Capital One or any of the other banks on this list? To save you some time, I’ll be blunt: their rewards suck, and their points are well known to be worth less than 1 cent. With the above three options, you’ll get at least 1 cent back on every dollar spent.

So, which is best for my case?

All three cards offer unlimited 1% cash back on every purchase. But each of them also have their benefits:

  • Choose the Discover Student Cash Back if you want the potential to earn 5% back on rotating categories every quarter, which sometimes includes dining and gas
    • Plus, they will match ALL cash back you earn in your first 365 days of the card being open and add that cash back amount by your 13th monthly statement.
  • Choose the Discover Student Chrome if you want 2% cash back on up to $1,000 of spending per quarter at restaurants and gas stations
    • Plus, they will match ALL cash back you earn in your first 365 days of the card being open and add that cash back amount by your 13th monthly statement.
  • Choose the Chase Freedom Student if you want maximum card acceptance (including places like Costco)
    • Plus, they give a $50 credit once you make your first purchase on the card within 3 months of the card being opened. (Don’t overthink it—yes, it’s really that easy, you can indeed just spend $1 on a candy bar right after you get the card in the mail, and you’ll get it.)
    • Plus, they give a $20 a year reward for the first 5 years the account is open. This is on the condition that your account is in “good standing”, which just means you have made your minimum payments and haven’t defaulted. If you never carry a balance, this won’t be an issue to worry about at all, and you’ll definitely get your $20 a year.

When I was a student, I picked the Discover Student Cash Back card, but that was mainly because I didn’t know there was a student version of the Chase Freedom card.

If I could do it all over again, I’d probably still go for the Discover Student card, because I had a Visa debit card I could use at Costco and on occasion when my Discover was declined by the merchant because they didn’t accept Discover. And Discover comes with no foreign transaction fees. Plus, they used to give the $20 a year Good Student reward, but apparently they have stopped doing this. The 1 for 1 point match in the first year was extremely enticing for me. Furthermore, 5% back on rotating categories per quarter was also pretty nice.

None of these cards require a prior credit history to apply for, since they are student cards. And once you’ve spent about a year of paying off these cards without carrying a balance, your credit score will be established to a decent point and you can start applying to better cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

Still can’t decide? I’ll decide for you. Get the Discover it® Student Cash Back card.

If you want more insight into the path I followed to go from nothing to thriving (including owning premium cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and American Express Platinum Card), see:

Why I applied for the Bilt Rewards Card

I just dipped below 5/24 this month. Two years ago, in October 2020, I had applied for the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa and the Apple Card (a Mastercard). I was looking forward to potentially applying for another Chase card, like the Chase Ink or maybe a cobranded card such as the United Explorer or perhaps one of the new Marriott Bonvoy cards. In addition, there’s also the Amex Gold I’ve been wanting to get, especially after I found out that having an Amex Corporate Card gets me a sweet $100 discount on the annual fee. Oh, and also, there’s the elusive Capital One Venture X card, which pretty much pays for itself thanks to its credits, and is also beloved for its access to the Capital One lounge. (As a native Dallasite, this benefit is actually much more valuable to me than many other Americans.)

However, realistically speaking, I needed to open as many avenues for myself to earn points as possible on all of my spending. I recently found out that I actually would benefit from using Bilt Rewards to pay my rent.

What’s Bilt Rewards?

It’s a card that gives you 1 point per dollar spent on rent, 2 points per dollar spent on travel (defined as airfare and hotel only), and 3 points per dollar spent on dining. (In addition, all other purchases on the credit card not in the previous categories give 1 point per dollar.) While 1 point on rent may seem like nothing, I spend over $2,000 on rent every month because I live in a high cost-of-living city. That means I am saying goodbye to over 2,000 points per month when I don’t pay with Bilt.

What kind of renters does Bilt Rewards apply to?

Originally, I thought Bilt Rewards wouldn’t apply to me because paying my rent through a credit card meant incurring a 3.25% transaction fee, which outweighs the 1 point per dollar spent on rent. However, it turns out Bilt Rewards has a clever way of avoiding this. Basically, anyone who rents from a landlord and pays cash can use Bilt to earn the points. Even if your landlord isn’t part of the “Bilt Rewards Alliance”, you can still pay your rent through Bilt by giving the landlord a checking account number that belongs to Bilt, but is charged against your credit card. This allows you to avoid a transaction fee (since bank transfers are free). If your landlord only takes checks, that’s fine too, since Bilt can also give you a check for your landlord to cash, and it’ll still count towards your rewards.

Are Bilt Rewards points powerful?

Yes, they are very powerful. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • They are currently the only credit card program offering transfers to AAdvantage. As an AAdvantage Platinum, this means a lot to me.
  • The points can be transferred to Hyatt, which has the highest point valuation among hotel loyalty programs.
  • Other great loyalty programs in Bilt Rewards include Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles, Emirates Skywards, Flying Blue (Air France and KLM), Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines MileagePlus, and Air Canada Aeroplan.
  • All point transfers are 1:1. (To be specific, they can be transferred in 1,000 point increments.)

This brings Bilt Rewards points up to par with the value of Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards points.

Any additional benefits?

Bilt Rewards runs “Rent Day” promotions on the first of every month. Typically, it means more points earned if purchases are made that day. For December 1, 2022, they’ve made it one week long (from November 25 to December 1) in time for Black Friday shopping. The points they are giving are insanely high:

  • 6x points for dining
  • 4x points for travel
  • 2x points for literally everything else except rent

Was it worth it?

So far, it’s too soon for me to tell for sure. But given the crazy potential for points back, I’m not at all disappointed that there’s no sign-up bonus. And thanks to a 5-day surprise “5x points on everything” deal I got, I put some heavy spending on my Bilt card and I now already have 6,192 points in my Bilt account, so I’m pretty happy.

Want to use Mastercard at Costco instead of Visa?

Fun fact: Yes, it is possible to use Mastercards at some Costcos.

What’s the catch? It has to be at a Costco in Canada.

Did you know that your Costco membership, no matter where it is purchased, gets you access to any Costco in the entire world?

In Canada, only Mastercards can be used at Costco. Yes, that really does mean Visa cannot be used. The first time I went to Costco in Canada, I tried using a Visa and got denied. Thinking that it was because my cards were foreign, I hastily tried to use my debit card instead, which just so happened to be a Mastercard. I didn’t realize until someone later told me that Costco Canada was the opposite of the U.S.

So what cards are good for Americans shopping at Canadian Costco? In order to be considered “good”, it must maximize rewards, but not have any foreign transaction fees, as that would defeat the whole point of using a credit card for rewards.

  • Apple Card – this Mastercard can be used via your iPhone or Apple Watch at checkout for 2% cash back.
  • Bilt Rewards – this Mastercard comes with no transaction fees, but it doesn’t offer the same 2% cash back potential as Apple Card does.
  • Worst case scenario, you could try using a Mastercard debit card if it’s issued by a bank like Ally Bank or Charles Schwab (which doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees or conversion fees on international transactions for their debit cards).

The problem with Mastercards being used abroad is the lack of good travel cards in Mastercard’s portfolio. (Typically, travel cards will waive foreign transaction fees.) Even if we look beyond travel cards, there’s almost no Mastercards (other than the above examples) that don’t have foreign transaction fees and give reward points on purchases.

Among popular credit cards without foreign transaction fees, how many of them are Mastercards, other than the two mentioned above? Let’s see…

  • American Express Platinum – is an American Express card.
  • Capital One Venture X – is a Visa Infinite card.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – is a Visa Signature card.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve – is a Visa Infinite card.
  • Citi Premier – finally! It is a Mastercard World Elite card.
  • Citi AAdvantage cards – yes, these Mastercard World Elite cards work too, but are cobranded American Airlines cards and don’t appeal to people who don’t fly on AA.

Pretty much the only option that is available is Citi, but their rewards are quite weak compared to Amex, Chase, and C1, which proves that using an efficient card at Canadian Costco comes down to whether you have a Citi card or an Apple Card or a Bilt Rewards card.

Why you should never cancel a credit card

Ever think a credit card has no more use for you? While it may seem like canceling or closing that credit card is a great way to close that chapter of your life, it actually causes more harm than good.

In short, credit cards should never be canceled because the longer a credit card is open, the better it will be for your credit history, and closing the card means it drops off your credit history. Credit bureaus want to see you utilize your credit responsibly and have a long history of using that credit. If you close your credit card, it can no longer help you paint a story of good, long credit.

Let’s bust a few myths about canceling credit cards:

Myth: If I don’t need a credit card, I should just cancel it because I’m not using it.

Fact: Just because you don’t use it doesn’t mean that it does any harm just sitting there. In fact, keeping it open is better for the reasons given above.

Myth: Canceling a credit card means I get a higher credit score because I’m paring down on open credit lines, which makes me look more creditworthy.

Fact: That’s false – it works the other way around. The more credit you have open, and the more self-control you have over your credit line, the better it looks to credit bureaus.

Myth: I need to cancel my credit card because it has a high annual fee and I don’t want to pay for it.

Fact: Even if the annual fees are too much to pay for, there’s likely a different credit card product offered by the same issuer with no annual fee ($0). You can get your credit card changed from one product to the other. Sometimes, you keep the same credit card number, and typically, you’ll keep the same credit limit as before. You’ll always keep the same account on the books this way, though. This means there’s ultimately no need to close the credit card.

Examples of product changes:

  • Chase Sapphire to Chase Freedom
  • American Express Platinum to Blue Cash Everyday

Pre-booking flights for weekend trips

Amex Offers giving $100 back for spend of $500 or more at Alaska Airlines

After a recent long weekend trip to San Francisco, I’ve become quite amenable to taking more trips on weekends. As I live in Seattle, Alaska Airlines has become my primary go-to airline, since this is their primary hub. Combined with my AAdvantage Platinum status, which is oneworld Sapphire, I get comfortable benefits when flying on Alaska.

I have an Amex Platinum card that I use to book airfares. Recently, Amex had their Membership Appreciation Week, and one of the offers they provided for a limited time was this amazing deal where you get $100 back if you spend $500 or more on Alaska airfares. That’s up to 20% back if you spend exactly $500, and that’s on top of the 5x points you always get on airfare.

As all this requires is $500 in spend, I’m planning on booking a few weekend trips to reach this amount. At my current job, I can work remotely on Mondays and Fridays as needed, so my goal is to fly out on Thursday evening and fly back on Sunday afternoon or evening.

Usually, I book refundable tickets in case a last-minute work cancelation requires me to cancel, despite the higher cost associated with them. If I need to change plans, I’ll be sure to book a nonrefundable fare (that’s not basic economy). Now, why would I go out of my way to book a fare with worse terms? If I want to keep this $100 statement credit, I can’t be getting refunds. Therefore, I want Alaska trip credits instead if I really need to cancel the flight. I travel on Alaska frequently enough that these trip credits will be usable in case I must cancel.

So now, I must decide by November 14 where I wish to go! Plane tickets to West Coast destinations from Seattle are looking very appealing, and I’m looking for a way to escape the winter depression.

Discover it® Cash Back Card finally becomes useful again for 3 months

Discover cash back for October through December 2022 includes all major digital wallets.

For the last 3 months of 2022, those of you with the Discover it® Cash Back Card that gives 5% back on rotating quarterly categories will find the cash back category finally widely applicable and generally useful.

From October to December 2022, in addition to 5% back on Amazon purchases, all purchases made with Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and Garmin Pay will also give 5% back, for up to $1,500 of spending.

To get started, you must activate at:

What’s the catch?

  • Must have the regular Cash Back card. Discover Chrome isn’t eligible for this deal.
  • Must activate the 5% back on Discover’s website.
  • Only the first $1,500 of eligible spend will be given 5% back.

When should I use my Discover Cash Back Card this quarter?

Obviously, don’t use your physical Discover card, as it won’t give you anything special! Be sure to only use Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, or Garmin Pay, as only these transactions will qualify for the 5% back.

If you have any other credit cards with special elevated cash back deals, and your spending typically exceeds $1,500 per 3 months, then save your special category spending for those other cards.

For instance, I have a Chase Freedom Unlimited, Chase Freedom Flex, and Chase Sapphire Preferred. All three cards offer 3x points on dining and drugstores and the Sapphire Preferred offers 2x points on travel. In general, I am continuing to use these cards for all dining and drugstore purchases. For travel, there are few if any chances to use Apple Pay or Samsung Pay to pay for travel-related purchases, so I stick with my Chase Sapphire Preferred.

If I go to Costco, I’ll still use my Chase Freedom Unlimited (unfortunately) since they only take Visa cards.

But if I go to any shop like a grocery store, I’ll definitely use my Discover card if they take Apple Pay.

Should I apply for the Discover card?

Would I recommend applying for a Discover card to get this benefit? If your goal is simply to get this 5% back, no, as the Discover card does not feature a sign-up bonus. Plus, the maximum benefit of this 5% back is $75 (which is 5% of $1,500) and this will only last for 3 months. Last but not least, the general 1% cash back is weak compared to cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited, which gives 1.5x points, and the Citi DoubleCash card, which gives 2% cash back.

Keep in mind Discover is usually a great starter card for people building credit, simply because they accept almost everyone who applies. Most people I know will have a Discover card but have since moved on to greener pastures (i.e. Visa, Mastercard, and American Express).

And just a reminder…

If you’ve moved on to better cards, be sure to never close your older cards. Not only do you get occasional gems of deals like these, but keeping the oldest cards on your credit history will help boost your average credit line age and will prop up your credit score.