Keeping American Express In Light Of The Costco Switch

One of our favorite credit cards is our Costco American Express card.  We signed up for the card several years ago because it offered a lot of great rewards:

  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • 3% cash back on gas purchases
  • 2% on restaurant and travel purchases
  • AmEx is the only credit card accepted for purchase inside a Costco store

It’s grown into one of our favorite cards, but within a short time, it will soon be history.  Costco has announced that they’ll be partnering with Visa, and while the specifics haven’t been announced, they will only accept Visa cards once the switch takes effect.

Presumably, there will be a ‘Costco Visa’ card that will likely offer the same or similar rewards.

mb-201402creditcard400However, this is a big loss for American Express.  I know that the stock price actually took a several percentage drop on the day the loss of Costco was announced last year.  They likely generate a lot of revenue from Costco, and I’m sure they don’t want to lose it.

My wife and I were talking about how much we like having an American Express card, and that we would need to potentially continue to use them in some fashion.  The reasons we wanted to keep an American Express card were:

  • It’s nice to have options
  • They have special offers in the form of statement credits that pop up from time to time.  We’ve had a credit just for charging our Sprint bill, and shopping at Amazon, just in the last few months.
  • There are often special offers associated with using an AmEx card.  For example, we got the opportunity to buy advance tickets for a concert last year by making the charge on our American Express card.

We did have two American Express cards for a time, as we had opened one last year so that we could get a tremendous deal on Delta on our plane ticket purchase (it didn’t lower the cost of the tickets, but we got a ton of free miles and free luggage check-in), but we just cancelled that because after one year, an annual fee was about to kick in.

However, not more than a couple of days after that conversation, an offer popped up right after I logged into our American Express card.

They noted that our current card will soon be ‘deactivated’ and that we’re pre-approved for a Blue Cash Everyday card.  They have a pretty tempting rewards structure:

  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • 3% on grocery store purchases
  • 2% on gas and department store purchases
  • On top of it, if we make $2,500 in purchases over the first three months after opening the card, we will get a $300 statement credit. Their standard offer, so far as I’ve been able to tell, is a $100 offer after charging $1,000, so while the spending amount goes up, the bonus reward is pretty awesome!

This sounds like a great fit.  Unfortunately, the offer only appeared for a day and by the time I spoke to my wife about it and we agreed it was a good offer, it was gone.  I’m thinking that they’ll be looking to retain current customer, especially as the end date of the agreement moves close, so I’m confident that the same or a better offer will appear.

Assuming that the new Costco Visa card would offer an increased bonus on restaurant and travel purchases, we would have all of the categories covered that we do today, as well as adding grocery stores and department store purchases.

That’s not a bad combo!

Readers, have you started looking at your replacement alternatives for the Costco American Express card?  What have you found?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Thoughts On Amazon Prime

We joined Amazon Prime last fall when they offered a $32 discount on their normal $99 price as a one-day promotion for new customers.  Since we’d never paid for Amazon Prime, but had debated on it, we decided to take advantage of the pricing.

Now that we’ve had it for just over three months, I figured it would be a good opportunity to check and see how things are shaping up.

2-Day Shipping / Convenience

Having access to two-day shipping definitely opens worlds of opportunities.  I took a look at my account as well as mb-2016-01-boxesmy wife’s account, and between October 1, 2015 and January 11, 2016 (when I started writing this article) we placed 23 orders from Amazon.  In the same period one year earlier, we placed 6 orders.  That’s nearly a 400% increase in the number of orders.  We definitely increased our cardboard recycling output!

Not all of these are directly attributed to having the two-day shipping, but I can tell you that quite a few of them definitely are.

In fact, it’s easy to get complacent as I recently learned.  The very first car seat that we ever purchased recently celebrated its six year birthday.  Six years was noted as the useful life of the seat, as the manufacturer noted that key components could start losing integrity.  Essentially, it was time to trash the seat.

We still like having seats for both kids in both cars, but now that our son is old enough for a booster seat, we needed one of those rather than a full fledged seat.  I whipped out my phone and looked up booster seats.  I settled on one that we liked that was around $24.  My wife pointed out that I should look it up on Target.com.  I did and it was $20.  Plus, with our Target card, we save an extra 5%, which brought it to $19.  Plus, it was available for pick-up at our local store!

It just goes to show that Amazon makes it very convenient, to the point where you need to remind yourself to shop around.  Since then, I’ve made it a point to better pay attention before simply clicking the Purchase option at Amazon.

Movies and TV

With Prime membership, we get access to their video library.  We can rent or purchase movies, often at a discount, and they also have a rotating library of streaming content that is available at no charge.

My wife has been using the streaming option for awhile, having found a few things that she likes.  I just recently set it up on our Roku so that I could watch it on TV.  The only thing that I’ve gotten through actually watching is the 8th season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Outside of that, I’ve only browsed.  The content seems rather limited compared to Netflix, but the price is right, I suppose.

Bottom line, I wouldn’t sign up for Prime solely for their free watchable content, but as a side perk, it’s nice to have.

Music

Last year, I had a free three month subscription to Google’s streaming music service, and I fell in love with it.  However, the $10 per month charge was pretty steep, so I sadly let it expire.  They had a great selection of music that I could pull up and listen to, and the app was really easy to use on my mobile phone.

When I found that Amazon Prime included access to streaming music, I was pretty excited.  I downloaded and installed the app, and started using it pretty regularly.  My thought is along the same lines as the Movies and TV element, in that it’s nice to have as a free add-on, but it wouldn’t be worth paying for on its own.  In fact, it doesn’t really even compare to Google Music in terms of my experience so far.  Let me explain:

  • App Navigation – I really don’t care for the navigation of the app.  They create some separation between music you’ve purchased and streaming video, so you have to switch over to ‘Prime Music’ every time you want to search.
  • Basic Info – When I search for an artist, and I get the list of albums that Amazon offers, one of the things I would love to see is when the album was released.  Amazon doesn’t show that or sort it that way.  Even when you click the album from the list to get more details, that basic release date is missing.  It’s a small thing, but I always sort music based on when it released, so this is extremely annoying to me.
  • It’s Not Shared – I told my wife about having access to the streaming music feature.  She downloaded the app and attempted to configure it, only to be told that she doesn’t have access.  Turns out that although many elements of Prime are shared across the household, streaming music is not.  You can only register the service to one account, any more than that and you have to pay.  I guess I understand the economics that drive this, but it would have been nice to know this up front.

Books

To be honest, I haven’t set up the Kindle app or even tried to see if I can use any type of e-reading benefits from being a Prime member.  I don’t have an actual Kindle, so I suspect that some of the benefits are limited or non-existent.

Storage

You get a few GB of cloud storage plus unlimited storage of photos, but we haven’t yet set this up.

Would We Pay Full Price?

At this point, we definitely enjoy the convenience.  As we get more used to using some of the features on the streaming music and video side, I think we’ll capture even more benefit.  It’s hard to say what we’ll do in the fall when our membership comes due, but I would lean toward us renewing the Prime membership if we had to decide today.

Readers, are you Prime members? What are your experiences with any of the items I’ve noted above or anything that I might not have mentioned?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

6 Things To Do With An Unexpected Snow Day

This past weekend saw one of the biggest snowstorms in history strike the East coast.  At times, watching TV and seeing the reports of snow piling up was as riveting of TV as there’s been lately (and, yes, this includes Making A Murderer).

Luckily, here in Michigan, we didn’t get even a flake of snow.  In fact, since we were right on the other side of the system, it was sunny for a good part of the weekend.  We’ve only had one major snowfall this season, and we were in Disney World for it, so it’s been very quiet for us.

There’s plenty of winter left this year, and chances are we’re still ripe for a storm, so I thought about some ways we’d handle things if we got snowed in by a major storm.

Do you wanna build a snowman?
Do you wanna build a snowman?

Play in the snow

If it’s really windy or really cold while it snows, this might not work, but sometimes all it does is just snow.  A lot.  And, when it does, it’s fun to go outside for a bit in the middle of the storm and watch the world transform into a winter blanket.

Movie and popcorn

There are few things better than taking some relaxing time, knowing that you can’t go anywhere, so snuggling up and enjoying some family time just works out really good during a snow storm.

Work on a long put-off project 

There are always small projects that need to be done around the house.  Provided that it’s not something where you might need to run out to the store for more supplies, you can sometimes get something crossed off your to-do list that’s been sitting there for a while.

Get your brain working

People can get restless pretty quick when they get cooped up, but it can be fun to get some exercise…and I’m talking about exercising your brain!  Doing a jigsaw puzzle or reading a book or working on coloring (that’s not just for kids anymore, by the way) can be great ways to keep your brain stimulated, which will help pass the time better.

Bake something fun

If it’s snowing then that means it’s cold enough to where turning on the oven and filling the house with the smell of freshly baked cookies is always a good thing.  So, have at it!

Keep in touch with your family, friends, and neighbors

While hopefully everybody is staying inside where it’s nice and safe, you want to make sure that your loved ones or those around you are weathering the storm OK. While it’s easy to get lost with the people with you in your house, make sure to keep tabs on the world outside.

Readers, with a quarter of the population having been affected by the storm, I know there are readers who were impacted.  How did you hunker down and make it through your most recent storm?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Disney World: Dealing With Unplanned And Unavoidable Problems

As I’ve outlined with my series of posts, our Disney World trip last November was an incredible experience.  It was made more so this way because of all the plans that my wife put into the trip. She spent hours and hours and it definitely paid off.

However, on a week long trip, it’s inevitable that you’ll have issues that no amount of planning could have avoided.

Here are a couple of things that threw us for a loop and how we responded to them.

The Late Snack Delivery

I’m a frugal guy, and knowing just how expensive Disney World is for just about everything, my wife and I decided to look at various ways to save money while we were there.  One thing we knew would be a big money saver would be things like snacks and bottled water, things that we definitely needed.

We had just recently joined Amazon Prime, so I looked into what they could offer.  Turns out that as Prime members, we have access to the Amazon Pantry, where you can order lots of things like snacks and water.  You do pay a shipping fee (but it’s by how quickly you fill up your ‘box’ which is a combo of size and weight) but it’s nominal.  You also don’t get 2-day shipping, but it is normally pretty quick nonetheless.

We decided to use this and we even called Disney to find out the specifics about whether our hotel would handle this.  It turns out it’s a pretty common thing, and they gave us the details we needed, and also advised that we have the shipment set to arrive a day or two before we arrived.

Our arrival was on a Saturday, and when we placed the order, it was set for a Thursday delivery.

Perfect, right?

When Wednesday morning rolled around, I figured it was a bit odd that it was still preparing for shipment, but figuring that it’s Amazon and they always have everything under control, I assumed that we would be good.

Turns out, Amazon does have problems too!

Later that day, we got notice that our box had shipped…but with an arrival date of the following Tuesday!

We were shocked and very disappointed.  After all, the stuff arriving that late meant that we would have several days without the snacks and water, and we’d have way too much of it given that we’d have a few days less than planned to use it.  Since it’d already shipped, we couldn’t even cancel the order.

We ended up dealing with the issue with a two step approach:

  • My wife spoke to someone at Amazon and explained the situation. They explained that there had been a glitch in the Pantry system, and the problem that we had experienced was pretty widespread.  Basically anybody that used the system over the day or two period that we had was going to see delays.  There was no way they could re-ship the items to arrive sooner, and of course they couldn’t cancel it.  But, they did refund the full order amount, provide an additional $5 credit, and they had no problem with us keeping the order.  So, essentially we got the entire order for free.  Plus $5!
  • We doubled up – My wife was part of a number of Facebook groups where people talked about the trip and shared ideas.  One thing that she’d found was a local grocer that would deliver to your hotel.  We had looked into them prior to Amazon but they were more expensive, so we went with Amazon instead.  After we realized we’d be a few days with no snacks, we revisited them.  We ended up placing an order, and even had a code for free delivery, which was normally around $10 or so on top of the higher price.

In the end we ended up with a ton of snacks and water.  We ended up taking a lot of the snacks home (we still have a few pouches of Goldfish crackers, some applesauce pouches, and some other odds and ends), and left the remaining bottled water in the hallway before checkout.

About That Free Backpack

When we were packing for the trip, we realized that we would need something to carry stuff around to the parks for snacks, things to wipe off with, autograph books, and other various stuff.  We found a backpack that my wife had received for free, and I was assigned the task of wearing it around the parks.

For the first couple of days, all went well and there were no issues.  On the third day, after we got back to the room, I was changing my shirt, and my wife pointed out that I had some weird marks.  I looked in the mirror and saw that it looked like a rash on my right shoulder and under my armpit, in the area where the backpack was.

Strange.  But it didn’t hurt or bother me in any way so I kind of forgot about it.

The following day I went about my business and wore the backpack again.

HUGE MISTAKE!

This time when I got back to the hotel room and changed my shirt, I knew there was trouble.  The two or three small areas had turned into five or six big areas.  And now they were rubbed raw.

Then they started to hurt.mb-2016-01-bandage

Then the blisters started to form.

Then it got really painful.

The big problem wasn’t that we still had a few days left.  For that, it was no big deal not to wear the backpack.  I could just start carrying it around.  I also started thinking that maybe taking a free backpack wasn’t the best idea, especially when, after that, I noticed lots of other people wearing backpacks, but with better straps and additional straps to better spread out the weight, which presumably I didn’t have.

No, the big problem was that I had already inflicted the damage and because of the position of where all the wounds were, there was no possible way I could bandage them  or cover them up.  See, anywhere near your arm moves around a lot, and any type of band aid, gauze tape, or otherwise peels off right away after you start moving your arm around.

So the last couple of days of the trip were very uncomfortable.   Because some of the wounds were under my armpit, I was walking around with one arm a few inches away from my body.  I brought antibiotic cream and petroleum jelly to try to keep it from rubbing the shirt fabric anymore than it had to.

I had my Fitbit with me and we were walking between 15,000 and 18,000 steps per day, just about every day.  That’s a whole lot of rubbing.  By time time we left, I was raw, and the blisters were popping, and it was…ugly.

It was really only after I got back and was able to get back to work and minimize my movement that it was able to start healing.  Even then it took about two weeks before I could even go back to the gym (think about running and all the back and forth that each step takes…yikes).

I found it very strange that it only happened on one arm.  I figure I must carry more weight or handle things differently.  It also, I think, was the strap that I put on last and took off first anytime it went off or on.  Maybe that has something to do with.

It didn’t put too much of a damper on my vacation, but it definitely made things a bit more uncomfortable, that’s for sure!

Readers, what unexpected circumstances have thrown you for a loop on vacation, and how did you end up dealing with them?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.