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Weekend Rewind

Weekend Rewind: Using Amazon Payments To Complete Minimum Spend Requirements

Weekend Rewind

Since there are so many new Readers to Frequent Flyer University, instead of writing new content every weekend, I have started to republish old articles from the FFU archive that according to Readers feedback, they have found especially useful.

For the Readers that are new, hopefully you will learn some new tips and tricks from these old articles.

For Readers that may have previously seen the content, consider this a helpful reminder in case you planned on taking advantage of the post but forgot about it.

The reason I choose this particular topic for today’s Weekend Rewind is due to the fact that so many of you got in on the British Airways 100,000 Avios Points offer.

While you get 50,000 Avios after your 1st purchase, to get the other 50,000 Avios, you have to spend $20,000 over 1 year.

If you are a family of 4, that shouldn’t be terribly difficult, but for someone that is my age or doesn’t have any kids / major everyday expenses, that kind of minimum spend can be a stretch.

As you will see below, using Amazon Payments over the span of 1 year, you should be able to spend $12,000 on your British Airways Credit Card at zero cost to you.

Utilizing this strategy, you should be able to cut the actual minimum spend requirement from $20,000 to only $8,000.

How To Meet Minimum Spend Requirements

Minimum spend requirements are the stipulations or “strings attached” that are added on to Credit Cards sign on bonuses.

Typically they sound something like this:

“Spend $X,XXX in X Months, and receive XX,XXX amount of miles”

As long as your complete the required minimum spend on the Credit Card in the amount of time the issuer gives you, you will get the miles.

If you don’t complete the minimum spend requirements, you will not get any miles.

While most minimum spend requirements are in the low thousands ($3,000 or so), this British Airway Card has an extremely high minimum spend due to the fact that they are giving you 100,000 Avios points.

Typically to hit minimum spend requirements you can use the strategy of pre-paying for future expenses such as next year’s insurance or buying grocery and gas gift cards to use later in the year, etc.

While this is effective, $20,000 worth of gift cards and insurance may not suit everyone.

Daraius of Million Miles Secrets has a great list of 40 potential other ways to rack up minimum spend which can be found here.

Ultimately you want to meet the minimum spend requirements by buying things you ACTUALLY need, as opposed to buying junk that you will regret in a few months!

Ideally you want to buy items on your Credit Card and then somehow get the same value back in cash! This can be achieved by buying a friend’s airline ticket on you Card, paying for Dinner, etc and then having your friends pay you back in cash, etc.

Frequent Miler has also recently become the authority on buying items (mostly gift cards) and then figuring out ways to extract the cash value out of them at a minimum cost. I’d highly suggest checking out his blog too because he has some great tips and tricks on how to do this.

Back in the good ole U.S Mint days, you could order thousands of dollars of $1 coins on your Credit Card at cost, they would be delivered to your door for free, and you could just deposit them in your bank.

This was great because you could meet your $3,000 or $5,000 minimum spend without having to really spend any money out of pocket!

You could spend $3,000 and get $3,000 back in $1 coins. To be fair though, it was a pain in the butt to haul $3,000 in coins to the bank every week!

Unfortunately those days are long gone, so now we have to get creative!

Amazon Payments

Currently the most effective tool out there to meet minimum spend requirements is Amazon Payments.

Amazon Payments is essentially a PayPal competitor which allows you to send money between two parties for free.

As of right now, this also includes Credit Cards!

If you are familiar with Credit Cards, you know Visa and MasterCard charge a 3% or so fee to process Credit Card payments. This means Amazon is currently eating these processing costs to build market share, although because Amazon is so large, they might pay a substantially lower fee to process Credit Cards.

I only expect Amazon’s generosity to last for a couple of more months, as for every $1,000 someone transfers, it costs Amazon $30 or so in processing fees.

Not really a good long term business model!

It is for this reason I recommend not going nuts and trying to transfer $5,000 in one month.

YOU WILL GET FLAGGED AND BANNED!

However if you transfer less than $1,000 (which is the monthly Credit Card limit), as I have been doing to pay my Rent since January 2012, you should be fine.

To sign up for Amazon Payments, simply go AmazonPayments.com. If you have an Amazon.com account log in, if you don’t, go ahead and create one.

Once you are logged in or signed-up, it will ask for your Social Security Number, Credit Card, Bank Account, etc so Amazon can make sure you aren’t money laundering.

After you register your Credit Card and Bank Account, you should be ready to send the money.

For the person you are going to send the money to, they will also have to sign up, including adding their Social Security Number, Bank Account, and Credit Card info.

It is for this reason, it is best if the person you are sending the money to is a spouse or trusted friend.

After your account is fully set up, simply go to the Send Money tab, and fill in the following fields.

I actually do use Amazon Payments to pay my Rent, so I put Rent in the box. You can put whatever you want, but I figure Rent is one of the only consistent reasons why you would transfer $1,000 a month, so it makes sense on that level to.

Note: That there is a $1,000 per a month limit on Credit Cards.

Also from my experience, it is better to have your other Person’s account set up and verified before sending the your money, or the payment might not go through.


After you hit continue, it will ask you how to want to fund the transfer.

Once you hit continue, it will take you to the Confirmation Page.

After you hit send on the Confirmation Page, the person you are sending the money to will get an email.

The first time I tried to pay my landlord via this method, the payment got flagged by Chase so I had to call Chase and tell them to manually override it and then I had to re-run the payment. However, once Chase knew about it, they never flagged it again and I haven’t had any issues.

Once your other Person logs into their Amazon Payments account, they can go collect the money and transfer it to their bank account. Once it is in their bank account, they can either write you a check or give you cash, or you can electronically transfer it.

Although I hate Chase Bank (not Chase Credit Cards though) for their ridiculous checking fees, their new person to person Quick Pay technology is exceptionally useful for transferring money between 2 people’s Chase checking accounts.

If your friend has Chase, they can transfer the Amazon Payment funds into their Chase checking account, and then do an electronic Quick Pay transfer to your account.

All in all, I have been paying my $750 rent to my landlord for the last 4 months, and a friend has been transferring me $1,000 a month to meet his minimum spend requirement and we have not had any problems.

When my friend transfers the money to me via Amazon Payments, I simply move that money to Chase, and then transfer it from Chase back to his Chase checking account.

Transfer Strategies

If you alone have to meet the spending requirement on the British Airways Card, and you are solely transferring to your friend or spouse, then you should not have any issues.

However if you and your friend or spouse both have the British Airway Card and both need to meet the spending requirements, then you might run into issues if you try to transfer money back and forth to one another.

The vital thing in the equation that I talked about above is that we ARE NOT transferring money back and forth between each other on Amazon Payments!

I am paying my Landlord, and then my Friend is paying me. The 2 People and accounts are not connected in anyway.

If I were to instead send my Friend $1,000 for “rent” (via Amazon Payments) and then he sent me $1,000 for “rent” (via Amazon Payments) every month, we would be asking to get flagged because Amazon would figure out that we are just doing this to get miles and not legitimately using the service for its intended use.

If you get flagged by Amazon, you are pretty much out of the game for good because your Amazon Payments account is tied to your Social Security Number. So unless you have another Social Security Number, it is best to not get greedy and avoid getting flagged at all costs.

Therefore do not try any circle strategies in which Person A transfers to Person B, and then Person B transfers back to Person A.

Additionally, I’d even stay away from doing any triangle strategies in which Person A transfers to Person B, Person B transfers to Person C, and Person C transfers back to Person A.

I’m sure Amazon has sophisticated fraud and anti-money laundering systems and will connect the dots if you do the same transfer pattern every month!

Therefore the best bet is the straight line strategy in which Person A transfers to Person B via Amazon Payments, and then Person B uses Chase or any bank to route the money back to Person A.

Yes Person B won’t get any miles for transferring the money back to Person A via Chase, Check or Cash, but you also won’t get flagged!

Hopefully all of that makes sense!

If you have any questions or have any better ideas on how to meet minimum spend requirements, feel free to email me at FrequentFlyerUniveristy@gmail.com or leave a comment.

Ethics

Before anyone comments about how this is unethical, I will point out that when I actually do pay my monthly rent via Amazon Payments, that Amazon is still loosing money even though it is a legitimate transaction.

Amazon could easily charge people to use Credit Cards, but they are purposely eating the transaction fee in an attempt to cut into Paypal’s market share.

Their strategy is obviously working since this post prominently promotes Amazon Payments and not Paypal!

Once Amazon Payments becomes unprofitable for them, they will stop allowing people to use Credit Cards. Plain and simple.

Until then we might as well utilize Amazon’s generosity and help them build their service!

-Parag

Weekend Rewind: How To Avoid Foreign Transaction & ATM Fees While Abroad?

Weekend Rewind

Since there are so many new Readers to FFU, instead of writing new content every weekend, I am going to start to republish old articles from the FFU archive that according to Readers feedback, they have found especially useful.

For the Readers that are new, hopefully you will learn some new tips and tricks from these old articles

For Readers that may have previously seen the content, consider this a helpful reminder incase you planned on taking advantage of the post but forgot about it.

Reader Question: How To Avoid Foreign Transaction & ATM Fees While Abroad?

Reader Question: Hey Parag, just wanted to say I love your site. It is the first site I check every morning at work. My husband and I are planning a trip to Italy this Fall, so we took your advice and both signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card! What looked like $2,000 in airfare should now hopefully be free! I do have a question, I keep hearing about Foreign Transaction Fees. What exactly are they and are there any ways to avoid them? Thanks, Maria

What Are Foreign Transaction Fees?

Foreign Transaction Fees are the fees that your Bank or Credit Card charges you to process a purchase made in a foreign country.

This applies to almost all Credit Cards, Debit Cards, and ATM Cards.

Typically the fee is somewhere around 3% although some credit cards companies like Capital One do not charge this fee.

Full list of Foreign Transaction Fees can be found here.

That being said, Maria is in luck because as I talked about last week, one of the many perks the British Airways Card 100,000 Point Offer is that the British Airways Card has ZERO foreign transaction fees.

At a minimum this will save Travelers 3% when making purchases abroad!

While 3% does not sound like a lot, if you charge your Hotel, Tours, Food, Souvenirs, etc, on your Credit Card, it can add up extremely quickly.

When I went to Australia in 2010 with Emily and her Family, her Dad spent over $10,000 on his Credit Credit that had foreign transaction fees.

If he had a Card that did not have any foreign transaction fees, he would have saved 3% of $10,000 or over $300!

Therefore the easiest answer to this question is that when you go abroad, put all your purchases on a Credit Card like the British Airways Card that doesn’t have any Foreign Transaction Fees.

Getting Currency Abroad

Now sometimes when you are abroad, there is no way to use your Credit Card and you need cash.

From going to India numerous times, I can tell you that outside of luxury hotels, no one uses or accepts Credit Cards.

Luckily, there are a few ways to get currency abroad, a few are good but most are really bad in terms of exchange rates.

Travelers Cheques

With the advent of Credit Cards and ATMs, in my opinion Traveler’s Cheques are really a relic of the past and I don’t recommend them.

To add insult to injury, the first Travelers Cheque was issued in 1772 and American Express started issuing them in 1891, so a 120 years later, it is safe to say there are better alternatives.

Exchanging U.S Dollars For Foreign Currency 

While this is the route that many people go, it isn’t really cost-effective.

You can exchange U.S Dollars for foreign currency at your local Bank, the Airport, your Hotel, Street Vendors, etc.

However in all of these cases, you are certain to get an extremely unfavorable exchange rate, as the person buying your U.S currency is playing the spread in the exchange rates.

At a minimum, you will lose 5% – 15% in exchanging U.S Dollars for any foreign currency.

I learned this lesson the hard way when I was in College and had no idea what I was doing.

I went to Chase and asked to exchange a couple hundred U.S Dollars into Euros for a upcoming trip, I didn’t ask what the rate was, and when I got home I calculated that after all of Chase’s fees and spread on the exchange rate, it cost me almost 15% of the value of my U.S Dollars!

Using An ATM In A Foreign Country

Regardless of if you follow my other suggestions below, your best bet it to always get money straight from ATMs abroad.

While most U.S based ATM Cards will charge you an annoying 3% foreign transaction fee and an ATM withdrawal fee, the money you will withdraw will be at the official exchange rate at that second.

Even with the ridiculous 3% Foreign Transaction Fee and ATM withdrawal fee, you are still certain to get a better overall exchange rate than if you exchanged U.S Dollars anywhere else.

Since your U.S Bank will charge you to an ATM withdrawal fee on top of the 3% Foreign Transaction Fee, my suggestion is to withdraw large amounts of money ($500 or however much you need) instead of $50-$100 at a time when you travel abroad.

In the end this will save your money, just remember not to carry it all around with you at the same time and place some of your money in your hotel safe or travel wallet.

How To Avoid All Foreign Transaction Fees & ATM Fees Worldwide

Now if you are a person that travels a lot, your best bet is to bank with a financial institution that has no ATM fees anywhere in the World!

Yes those do in fact exist!

Bank Of America

A lot of people talk favorably about Bank of America because they are a member of a “global alliance” of ATMs and allows you to withdraw cash abroad without a fee and a reduced Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% at their Partner banks.

While this is a start, it is kind of annoying because the Partner banks are Country specific.

So for example when I was in Amsterdam, I used my BofA Debit Card to withdraw from a Barclays ATM at the airport, as Barclays in a partner of the “Global Alliance”.

However when I came home, I still got charged 3% Foreign Transaction Fee and $5 ATM withdrawal fee.  

When I called BofA to tell them that they messed up and I’d like the fee refunded, they told me that the “global alliance” only works for specific countries, in the Barclays example I could only use Barclays ATMs in the UK for free, even though Barclays has Barclays ATMs all across Europe.

Kind of dumb!

Time To Talk To Chuck

After deciding that Bank of America was worthless,  I looked for a new bank and came across Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking.

While most people think of Charles Schwab as an investment firm (which they are), they are also an actual bank!

I will preface the rest of this post by saying Charles Schwab is NOT paying me anything to talk about their free Checking Account or promote it in any way.

I am writing this extremely long review because I think their Online Checking is amazing and I want to help you save money!

That being said, with a Charles Schwab Online Checking Account, you get 100% free checking.

No fees, no minimums, no direct deposit needed, plus free checks, and real customer support.

I’ve had my Charles Schwab High Yield Checking Account for over 2 years now, and I have not paid a single cent to them for anything.

I kid you not! Everything you hate about your current bank is FREE at Charles Schwab, no strings or fees attached!

However the best part of Charles Schwab Checking is…

NO ATM FEES ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD & NO FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES!

Let me just repeat that.

NO ATM FEES ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD & NO FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES!

Now when I say ATM fees, I am not just talking about the fee your Bank charges to use a non-preferred ATM,  I am also talking about the $2 – $3 fee the ATM charges you.

Charles Schwab refunds all of these fees!

Now I only travel abroad maybe 2-3 times a year, but what is nice is that the free ATMs also relates to U.S ATMs. So I can effectively take money out of anywhere for free.

Most people take out money out once a week from their Bank’s ATM to avoid fees, and if they run out of cash then they have to pay a fee to use a non-preferred ATM.

With my Charles Schwab Checking Account, I can take money out wherever.

If I’m at a bar and run out of cash, I can just hit up the Bar’s ATM even if they charge a $3 withdrawal fee because Charles Schwab will reimburse me. Thanks Chuck!

Now I know firsthand what a huge pain in the butt it is to switch banks because we just switched Emily over to Schwab.

However when you realize how much money your Bank is stealing from you to perform basic functions, on top of the fact that you are giving them YOUR money to hold which they are lending out to make even more money, it is really amazing.

How Much It Really Costs To Have A Bank Account

I always talk about Mint.com and this is why.

I will probably do a complete overview of Mint.com one of these days, but the reason why it is amazing is that you can get a complete overview of your entire financial situation all at once.

This includes all your transactions over any given period.

So in my numerous attempts to convince Emily to switch to Schwab, I finally just went to Mint, searched for Fees and pulled up all the fees that Chase charged her over the last 3 years.

In the image, you only see ATM fees but they also charged account maintenance fees, fees to order checks, minimum balance fees, etc.

$263!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Even I was surprised by that number!

Without checking Mint, it is extremely easy to think “oh my Bank only charged me $3, not a big deal” but those $3 ATM fees and $6 monthly account fees add up really quickly!

Unless you do a high level look at your finances, 99% of customers would never know how much their bank charges them.

Do you know how much you spent on ATM fees in the last year? Probably not!

And let’s be honest, your Bank isn’t going to send you any kind of financial statement at the end of the year saying,

“Thanks for being such a profitable customer! In the last 3 years, we charged you $300 in easily avoidable fees that you probably aren’t even aware of. We hope you will continue to Bank with us as we plan on stealing some more money from you next year!”

As I stated earlier, I know exactly what a huge pain in the butt it is to switch over your Bank because you most likely have online bill pay set up and a host of other features.

However in doing consulting work for a few of the big banks, the dirty little secret I learned is that they give you all those “free” services so they can keep you locked in!

Banks know that if all your financial information (like online bill payment) is set up on their platform, then you are going to be less likely to switch because you have to move all that information over to your new Bank.

Remember what a pain it was to switch your cell phone plan before you could keep your same telephone number? Same thing!

Although Bank of America severely underestimated the backlash from social media, when they tried to roll out their $5 debit card fee last summer, it wasn’t just some boneheaded random move!

Their highly paid consultants had researched it out and surveyed Customers to determine that because Bank of America’s Customers’ finances were so intertwined into Bank of America’s online banking platform, that even with a $5 debit card fee the majority of their Customers would be too lazy to switch.

Point of the story – Don’t be lazy and let your Bank walk all over you.

Remember it is your money that you are letting the Bank hold!

Banks can make money lending your money to people, but they shouldn’t be making money off of the people who are lending them money in the first place!

Opening An Account With Charles Schwab

Opening an account with Schwab is really easy and can be done online in 10 minutes.

As I said earlier, I get nothing if you sign up for an account except the satisfaction that I saved my readers from some future ATM fees!

Link To Charles Schwab

Even if there isn’t a Schwab branch near you, I would still recommend opening an account because all of their banking can be done by mail or via smartphones, and as I said earlier, you can take money out of any ATM for free!

There are 3 branches in Chicago, and I have never stepped foot into any of them because all of my banking is done electronically.

In the rare event I need to deposit a check, I can deposit it via the Schwab app on my iPhone or mail it in via a pre-paid envelope.

As you can see above, it is 100% free to open an account.

There are no fees, no required direct deposit, or even any minimums to open the account.

You can open an account with as little as $0.01, and even withdraw that $0.01, and Schwab still won’t charge you any fees even if your balance is $0!

The only requirement is that you open a brokerage account when you open your checking account, however that is also 100% free.

Before you write this off, you don’t ever have to use the brokerage account, there are no fees for inactivity, and there aren’t any credit checks to open the brokerage account.

I personally do not ever use my brokerage account, and I have never been pressured to use it or even contacted about using it or any other Charles Schwab services.

Once your account is open and you fund it, Schwab will mail you your free checks and ATM card.

FYI – until you fund it with $0.01 cents or more, Schwab won’t send you your checks or ATM card.

I had a Roth-IRA which I also moved over when I switched my banking to Schwab, and it was extremely easy.

Best part is that if you ever have any questions about anything, you can always call them up and someone in the U.S will pick up instantly.

Recap

Hopefully that answers Maria’s question.

Basically, avoiding foreign transaction fees come down to 3 basic things:

  • If possible, use a credit card with zero Foreign Transaction Fees for all your purchases when abroad.
  • If you need cash while abroad, always use an ATM.
  • If you hate your Bank, switch to Charles Schwab.

If you have any questions about anything travel or miles related, you can always email me at FrequentFlyerUniversity@gmail.com!

-Parag