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Postby freyj6 » Sun Nov 30, 2014 4:14 am

Thanks everyone. I actually didn't expect such warm feedback :) Glad this is helpful.

US Bank Flex Perks Travel Rewards AMEX

A lesser known card with an interesting rewards structure. One point on all spending, 2x on restaurants and fast food, and 2x on groceries, OR gas, OR airfare, with a $49 annual fee.

-Points are potentially worth 2 cents
-3 options for the second 2x category
-Relatively low annual fee

-Less control over what your points are worth than other cards
-Rewards categories are covered by other good cards\
-Lots of points needed to start redeeming

What makes this card somewhat unique -- for better for for worse -- is that the point value is more closely fixed than other cards. Basically, you have the potentially to get a maximum of 2.0 out of points and a minimum of 1.33. If you have US Bank's platinum checking, your rewards rate will be higher, but it's far from worth it for most people given the fees associated with the account.

So what should we value these points at? Initially it's tempting to think "well, I'll only use them for flights that cost exactly $400, $600, $800 and so on" but realistically you don't have much control over whether your flight will cost $599 or $601 -- the difference between a 1.33 and 2.0 value. It would also be temping to value them at half way (1.67) since you have no control over what flights cost. Although the high redemption rates make maximizing points harder, you do still have some control over what flights you book, and I think most people would try to avoid booking a $402 flight when they could get a $600 flight for the same price.

Given that control, but the lack of control of flight costs, I'd say 1.75 would be a good compromise for the value of Flex Points. If you fly a ton and use multiple travel cards, this could potentially be a little higher.

Using that value, lets look at the rewards rate. We have 1x on all spending, 2x on dining/fast food (AMEX version only), 2x on cell phone, and 2x on either gas, groceries or airfare. With the points factored in, we have 1.75 on regular spending and 3.5 on the other categories.

What bonus category is best?

If you look at the earlier post on groceries cards, it's pretty clear that 3.5% on groceries just isn't that competitive. Sallie Mae offers a fee-free 5% for low spenders, and big spenders can take advantage of Blue Cash Preferred's 6%. Gas is similar. Sallie Mae covers the first $250, and AMEX Simply Cash offers 3% fee-free. You'd have to have huge gas spending to cover the annual fee with the extra 0.05%, especially when you take into account that Discover IT and Freedom often cover gas at least half the year. Cell phone stuff is covered at 5% by the Ink cards, so that's pretty useless too.

So what we really have here is travel. 3.5% vs 3% for no fee cards and vs 3x MR on PRG and 2x UR on CSP. I could go into a complicated comparison here, but I'll make it a lot simpler: it would be extremely difficult to travel enough that a 0.5% extra difference covers the $49 annual fee, and not have enough redemption options to get good value out of MR or UR. If you're a big travel spender, CSP or PRG is probably better. If you're not, Simple Cash will likely be.

What we're left with is covering most of the annual fee through dining, which, surprisingly can actually be done. If we assume a base 2% from the Double Cash, and most likely 2 quarters covered by Discover and Freedom, we're looking at covering a $49 annual fee with an extra 1.5% rewards rate during half the year. That would take less than $3500.

Other perks like the 3500 bonus points for $24000 spent and $25 towards baggage or food are nice, but rarely make the difference for most people.

Who Should Get Flex Perks:
-People who have Platinum checking with US Bank for some other reason
-People who eat out a lot
-People who travel a lot but for some reason can't get good value out or UR or MR
-People who donate to charity with their credit card (3x points), although my notion is that this just means your charity is taking a 3% hit from you using the card anyway.

Who Shouldn't Get Flex Perks
-Anyone who can get 2+ points out of UR or MR
-Anyone who doesn't travel or eat out a lot
-Anyone who rarely takes flights that cost $400 or more

The ultimate "yes" or "no" on this card is a bit more difficult to define than the previous ones because there are so many variables. I find that justifying this card feels a little bit contradictory, for lack of a better word -- If you're a big spender who travels a lot, you're likely to get better value out of the CSP or PRG. If you're not, it's very difficult to justify the annual fee.

But for the odd restaurant enthusiast who can justify most of the annual fee with the extra 1.5% back, perhaps there's a place for this card.

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Postby RewardHop » Tue Dec 02, 2014 10:00 pm

Good work, great analysis! Please keep it up.
Amex BCE: 3% grocery, 2% gas
Bank of America Better Balance Rewards MC: $25/quarter bonus
Barclaycard Rewards Visa Signature: 2% gas, groceries, utilities
Capital One Quicksilver Visa Signature: 1.5% everything
Chase Freedom Visa Signature: 5% rotating
Citi Forward Visa: 5% restaurants/fastfood, movie theaters,
Discover It: 5% rotating
SallieMae MC: 5% Groceries, Gas, Amazon
US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature: 5% electronic stores, restaurants
Sock Drawered: Chase Sapphire, Chase Amazon[/size]

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Postby freyj6 » Wed Dec 03, 2014 5:51 am

What cards would you guys most like to see? I'm thinking PRG, Ink Plus and Citi Premier are the main ones to hit, but I'm more than open to suggestions/requests.
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Postby CarefulBuilder14 » Wed Dec 03, 2014 8:42 am

I'd like to see a comparison of Amex Green, Gold, and PRG. Perhaps also Ink Plus.
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Postby lobbythis » Wed Dec 03, 2014 10:34 am

Yes on Citi and Amex ;)

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Postby freyj6 » Thu Dec 04, 2014 1:06 am

Many of AMEX's cards are really just centered on non-point-related benefits, which means they're pretty much impossible to review in a useful non-subjective manner. Green card? It's a 1 MR per dollar spent card with a $95 annual fee, which is abysmal in terms of rewards. Platinum is nice if you really value lounge access or other membership benefits, but like the green card, the rewards rate is terrible. I don't think a review of these cards would be particularly helpful -- just get them if you think the non-rewards benefits are worth $95-450 a year.


Ink Plus

The Ink Plus is, in many ways, very similar to the CSP. It's mostly useful as a point converter, but may also hit some useful categories for certain people.

-Huge sign-up bonuses
-Insanely good if you actually do spend a lot of money at office supply stores
-Covers internet, TV and cellular at 5%, which are categories almost everyone uses
-Improves value of Ink Cash and Freedom
-Sometimes offers retention bonuses (unlike CSP) and lounge access

-$95 annual fee
-Other categories aren't particularly useful for most people

For those who can get good value out of UR points, Ink Plus is a great card -- potentially even better than CSP. Let's first look at what it takes for the card to actually be worth getting (to justify the annual fee, assuming you'd otherwise have a base 2% on everything from DoubleCash) and then we'll compare it to CSP.

Basically, justifying the annual fee works the same as justifying CSP's annual fee, which is described in detail on the last page. You need to figure out what value you can get out of UR points, and then determine whether Ink's bonus categories and converting Freedom/Ink Cash bonus points puts you ahead. For instance, if you got a value of 1.5 out of UR points, you could cover the annual fee by spending $5000 in Freedom bonus categories and converting them, spending $5000 in Ink's 5% categories and converting to UR points, or some combination. This is explained in a lot more depth in the CSP post the last page -- you just need the conversion of UR points to cover the $95 annual fee.

Ink vs CSP

The real question here, however, is whether Ink is better than CSP. That is, whether you'll get more out of Ink's categories and potential fee waivers and retention bonuses than you'd get out of CSP's.

At first glace you'd think it's just whether your spending on dining/travel nets you more than your spending at office supply stores and on cell, TV and internet. But it's not that simple. The catch is that there's also the Ink Cash and Freedom cards, which cover those categories some or all of the time.

So what we're really looking at is Ink Plus/Ink Cash/Freedom vs CSP/Ink Cash/Freedom.

Ink Cash covers Ink Plus's same 5% categories, plus gas and restaurants at 2%. So essentially, with CSP you're getting the travel category (minus hotels, since those are covered under Ink Plus) and with Ink Plus you're getting lounge access, retention bonuses and higher spending potential in your 5% categories.

For most people it's ultimately about whether CSP's travel category minus hotels (so airlines, parking, taxis, buses, etc) is more valuable than lounge access and potential fee waivers and retention bonuses.

Here's a list of retention offers for the Ink.

It seems that, a fee waiver and a 10k UR bonus for 5k spent are common, but not ubiquitous.

As a general rule of thumb, I'd say that if you can get a retention bonus, Ink Plus is generally better, and if you can't, CSP is generally better. However, if you spend enough to justify the annual fee simply on airlines, parking and ground transportation, then CSP still comes out on top.

For example, if you got a value of 2.0 out of UR points and you spent $5000 a year in those 3 categories, it would actually be worth getting CSP even if you got a fee waiver on Ink Plus.

Who Should Get Ink Plus
-Anyone who actually spends over $25000 in the 5% categories
-Anyone who doesn't spend much on travel, but wants to convert Freedom/Ink Cash points to UR
-Anyone who doesn't cover CSP's annual fee with spending in the travel category
-Those planning to grab the sign up bonus and downgrade to Ink Cash

Who Shouldn't Get Ink Plus
-Anyone who can't get good value out of UR or doesn't travel
-Anyone who could get better value our of Ink Cash + CSP
-Those who can get better value out of MR or a fixed point system like the Arrival+'s

So again, if you can get good enough value out of UR points to be considering CSP or Ink Plus, then it's really about whether you want CSPs travel category or Ink's options for retention bonuses and 2 lounge visits. If you're a big spender and you're pretty sure you can get a fee waiver (or better yet, 10k UR for spending) then Ink Plus is probably better unless you're really getting good mileage out of CSP's travel category (no pun intended).

A case could be made for getting both, but really only if a) you spend a ton on both travel and Ink's 5% categories, or b) if you're a big spender and you're sure you can take advantage of the 10k UR for 5k spent retention bonus each yet.

Cheers :)
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Postby freyj6 » Thu Dec 04, 2014 1:46 am

Okay, one more because I think this will be relatively quick by comparison.


Put simply, PRG is just a 3x MR on airfare card with a $175 annual fee. However, there are a few other points that complicated things slightly.

-Potentially best rewards rate of airlines of any card
-Very high caps on spending in bonus categories ($100,000)
-Good retention offers available

-High annual fee
-Only one truly useful category for most people

On the first level of complication, let's look at how much you'd need to spend to justify the annual fee on this card at various MR values.

At 1.0 - Unlimited, since SimplyCash offers 3% back with no annual fee.

At 1.5 - $12000, if compared to SimplyCash

At 2.0 - $6000

So depending on the value you get out of MR points, this card can easily range between quite good and quite useless. If you travel often, and get a value of 2 out of MR points, then this card is a godsend. If you don't, or you don't, then it's hard to justify.

The Other Categories

But what about the 2x points on groceries and gas you ask? While this at first might seem lucrative, it's actually much less-so than you might think. If you get poor value out of MR (say, less than 1.4) then you're only getting 2.6% or less back in these categories, which is pathetic compared to what you could get out of other gas/grocery cards like BCP, Sallie Mae and BCE. If you do get decent value out of MR (1.4 or greater) then the Everyday Preferred blows PRG out of the water, with potentially 4.5x points on groceries and 3x points on gas.

The only time where these categories might become useful is if you for some reason have huge spending on groceries and gas. If $6000 on each from EDP, $6000 on each from BCP and $3000 each on Sallie Mae doesn't cover your budget, than the 2x MR is useful, but usually only if you were able to justify the annual fee some other way.

Retention Bonuses

PRG's real diamond in the rough is its retention bonuses:

5/2014 - 15K MR (no strings) + 5k for $3k spend, acct open 1 yr w/ $10-15k spend
7.5K MR + 5K for $500 spend
*3/2014 - Offered a $175 "loyalty statement credit", account open for a year with slightly over $10k spend
*3/2014 - 15K MR (no strings) + 5k for $3k spend, acct open 1 yr w/ $16k spend last year.
3/21/14 - 25K MRs with no spend requirement. Over $200K spend. Option was given for $175 rebate which was declined.
*4/2014 - 15k MR (no strings) + 5k for $3k spend, acct open 1 yr w/ $23k spend last year.
4/09 -15k MR + 5k more if $3,000 spend in 60 days. Total spend last year less than 5k. My wife called 4/19 same spend and opening date 2 wks apart. They offered nothing and I had her close account as we don't need 2 anyway. Weird how everything was the same but completely different results.
6/24/2014 - Annual spend-$5.5k.. no offer.. HUCA..
7/14: 15k MR + 5k for $3k spend OR $75 stmt credit + $75 credit for $1k spend; first renewal/annual fee; $20-25k annual
7/14: 25k MR, no strings, annual spend approx. 17k
9/14: 25k MR w/o any strings, or $75 now and $75 after spending $1500; first card renewal, ~$25k in spend.

As you can see, 15-25k MR is pretty common for big spenders, which is far more than the annual fee for anyone who can get decent value out of MR points. In fact, if you can get a value of 2 or so out of MR, the retention bonuses can be worth $300-500. But if you're spending less than 5k a year on this card, then retention bonuses are uncertain.

Who Should Get PRG
-Big spenders who travel a lot and can get decent value out of MR
-Moderate spenders who travel a lot and can get good value out of MR
-Those with extremely high grocery spending who get good value out of MR

Who Shouldn't Get PRG
-Anyone who doesn't travel much
-Most people who can't get good value out of MR points
-Moderate spenders who are unlikely to be able to get a retention bonus (unless they get great value out of MR points)
-Those who don't want to call in once a year to fish for retention offers

So long story short, travelers and big spenders will do great with this card provided they can get a good value out of MR. At a value of 1.5, you need to spend $12000 or count on a retention bonus. At a value of 2.0, you need to spend $6000 or get a bonus.

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Postby CarefulBuilder14 » Thu Dec 04, 2014 11:32 pm

Well, I'm certainly going to make a possibly-in-vain call to seek some small PRG retention offer before I close it. Even 5k points could sway me to keep it.
Wallet: Prestige CSP SchwabPlat Freedom It Hyatt SallieMae AAPlat
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Postby Carmy3 » Wed Dec 17, 2014 11:43 am

great thread. the annual fees are the cons for me not getting the arrival and csp
capital one quicksilver-10k(everyday), discover it-8k(rotating categories),
american express blue cash everyday-7k(groceries, gas, department stores),
chase freedom-4.8k(rotating categories), citi thank you preferred visa-3.2k(dining)

put away
military star mastercard-10k, usaa visa-9k,
usaa world mastercard-8.5k, military star-4.7k

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Re: An in-depth analysis of popular cards

Postby freyj6 » Thu Dec 17, 2015 9:11 pm

Stumbled on this thread again. Figured I'd bump/update it :)

Citi Prestige

The Prestige card fills it's intended niche very well, making it a bad choice for most people, but quite useful for a small segment. This makes it an interesting card.


50k sign up bonus (100k targeted)
No foreign transaction fee
4th night free at hotels
Lots of extra perks


-Average for point earning
-Massive $450 annual fee not waved the first year

Let's start off by disqualifying this card (for most people) right from the beginning. First, this is a bad card to churn. People make the mistake of thinking that, because you can get a $250 airline reimbursement fee in 2 different calendar years that the annual fee "pays for itself". In one sense that's true, but the alternative is just getting a 50k sign up bonus from another card (or 2 or 3) and paying absolutely nothing, rather than breaking even. So it makes little sense to churn this card unless you're out of other options.

Second, if you don't spend A LOT of money and stay in hotels often, there's little reason to get this card. The 4th night free booked through a hotel needs to be booked through a specific booking service, so if you find better prices elsewhere, you're out of luck. This is less likely to be a problem if you spend a lot of time at hotels, but still less than ideal.

How it can be worth it:

With the $250 airline credit, we've got another $200 a year to cover. (Minus $100 if you get reimbursed for a global entry pass).

If you're not a huge spender, milking the 4th night free hotel bonus is the only way to make the card pay for itself. There seems to be no limit to the number of uses, and if you have the flexibility to book stays so that your 4th night falls on a much more expensive night (say, a Saturday in Vegas) you can get much more than 25% off.

Doing this, however, requires a somewhat expensive lifestyle: you'll need to stay at hotels often and you'll need to pay in cash (rather than points). You'll also have to call their concierge to book (so you won't be able to get any special deals) and the process is apparently somewhat tedious (although the prices should be the same).

Given that, if you end up staying at hotels frequently for 4+ nights, this is a GREAT perk. It's especially strong if you travel for business and get reimbursed, since you'll end up paying the whole fee on your card (and get reimbursed by your employer) then receive a statement credit from Citi as well.

If you can't justify the price with hotel stays alone, you'll have a big challenge ahead of you trying to justify the fee with the card. 3x points on airfare and hotels and 2x points on dining and entertainment relatively similar to what you'd find on lower-fee cards like AMEX PRG, chase CSP and Citi Premier. The points are less versatile than MR or UR points, but have equal (or perhaps greater) value for some international destinations -- aka anywhere that AA points are extra valuable.

Nevertheless, the intangibles may make it worth the fee, even without benefiting from the hotels:
-Free lounge access means lots of free food if you frequent the right airports
-Free car rental insurance
-Free travel accident insurance, medical insurance, warrantee extension, price rewind, etc.

You should get the Citi Prestige if:
-You can cover $200 of the annual fee with 4th night hotel stays that you would have booked anyway (saving money by spending more is never a good idea).
-You have plenty of money already and value intangibles
-You spend a lot on travel and get good value out of AA miles or other transfer partners

Don't get the card if:
-You don't frequently travel or stay at hotels for 4+ days
-You do a lot of budget/award travel and cover hotel costs with points or special deals (or you stay at airbnb's).
-You cover costs by churning cards

I think that's about it. Cheers :)
Last edited by freyj6 on Thu Dec 17, 2015 11:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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