Looking For Post-CARD Tricks and Traps

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One of the criticisms of the CARD act is that it doesn’t do enough to prevent banks from coming up with all new tricks and traps.    The long term solution is  the proposed financial product safety commission.   This would be to financial products what the consumer products safety commission is to physical products.    Until that is passed, we will be on the lookout for new tricks and traps.

Is This A New One?

With my radar set to maximum in an attempt to discover new and devious fine print that banks are creating to separate you from your money, I came across this article in The Consumerist.    The reader purports to have found a $2 charge on his Macy’s charge card for something called “Educational Interest”.     The story is a bit confusing, and I could find no further information on this charge on the Internets.    Furthermore, I have asked a Macy’s cardholder that I know to be on the lookout for this charge and to let me know if she sees such an item.

More Good Stuff From Starwood

Regular readers know that my favorite travel and rewards card is the Starwood American Express.    One of the fringe benefits of the card is a certificate they give you every year called an SPG50.    In theory the SPG50 is supposed to give you %50 off the rack rate of any Starwood hotel.    In reality, the rack rates are often, but not always, more double the best available price out there.

On the other hand, there is an entire thread over at FlyerTalk where they attempt to ferret out the hotels where this certificate brings you some value.    The best part about the Starwood forum at FlyerTalk, is that the people at Starwood actually read the comments there, post official responses, and offer to assist people.    If every hotel did this, it would be great.   If any airline actually did this, I think I would have a heart attack!

Anyways, it turns out that my SPG50 certificate will, in fact, result in a few hundred dollars in savings, by my parents, when they stay with us at the Starwood in St. John.    Furthermore, I have figured out the value I will be getting from the Starpoints that I will be using for my stay.   Sadly, it is only about 2 cents a point.    I came up with that figure when I realized that the other, non-Starwood accommodations we will be utilizing are costing us about $250 a night.     I have to use that number for the amount I would have paid if I had not had any Starpoints to redeem.     I also have to figure  in the $40 a night mandatory “resort fee” that we will reluctantly be paying to use our reward stays.   In the end, it works out to just over 2 cents a point when compared to our other hotel.

The other way of looking at it, is that the Starwood is nicer, and would have been much more expensive had we paid cash.    If you look at what we are saving based on the best available rate, we are looking at about 4 cents per point.    If you factor in the SPG50 rate, we go down to 3.5 cents per point.

Why Do I Stick With Starwood?

If I am really only getting 2 cents per dollar spent, what’s the point?   Why shouldn’t I just go with a 2% cash back card?    I am asking myself that, but in the end, I have concluded that he flexibility of the Starwood card makes up for it.   If I find myself short of a few miles here or there, I value the ability to transfer miles from Starwood to other programs.    It is that feature that has allowed me to take advantages of big promotions when they have come up in the past.

Finally, I value Starwoods exemplary customer service, a rarity in the travel industry these days.   For example, my SPG50 coupon happens to be expired, but I have found out that they will send you a new one on request.     That is customer service, and that is why they keep my business.

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