Posts Tagged With: credit cards

Credit Card hacked – Someone booked a $2800 stay using my card

Last Friday afternoon I received a security notification from Barclay Fraud department (which btw has a top notch security alert system). They wanted to clarify a few recent charges on my Barclay Arrival World Elite Mastercard. I ignored the voicemail for a few hours as I had  purchased gift cards from Simon mall worth $7500 to manufacture spend some valuable Barclay miles and I assumed this purchase triggered the security alert. Barclay wanted me to call in and clear recent transactions before I wa able to use my card again. I wanted to sort out the situation asap so called the fraud department and they had  question on a $2800 ish charge on my card for Hotel Perla (which after googling I found out is in Prague another place on our bucket list). They went through all my recent transactions and confirmed if it were me or one of the authorized users who charged the card.

Hotel Perla

Someone enjoyed a $2800 stay using information from my credit card

I did not panic because all major credit cards come with Fraud protection and you are never responsible for any unauthorized charges on your card. I know some folks avoid applying for credit cards for the very reason of dealing with fraud but knowing credit card companies always back you up for  fraudulent transactions keeps me alive in this game.

Long story short, Barclay cancelled existing cards (including authorized users) on my Arrival card and have expedited new sets of card that should arrive here shortly. I did not have to pay anything for the unauthorized stay of $2800 at Hotel Perla which was charged on my credit card.

Can you avoid Credit Card skimming?

PC magazine did an article on how you can “possibly” avoid scammers steal your credit card information. A lot of credit card companies are switching to “chip-based” technology which is supposedly “safer” but that did not help in my case as Barclay does have the chip technology but somehow someone was able to retrieve information from my credit card and not sure if they booked an advance stay or used the card after the stay was completed and got a freebie. So bottomline is you probably cannot avoid skimming of your card but the best you can do is to stay card smikker

A good habit is to check you account every couple of days and look for any charge that looks suspicious and contacting the bank right away. Make sure you email address and telephone numbers with the banks are updated so in a situation like this they know how to contact you and you are not left stranded without a credit card especially when traveling.

Have you ever had someone skim steal your credit card information?

Categories: Barclaycard, Citi Credit Cards, Miscellaneous | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Top 5 credit cards for Free Hotel Stays

You can visit to sign up for many of these limited time offers

Best Hotel Credit Cards For Free Stays

If you’re searching for the best hotel credit cards, look no further. I’ve chosen a handful of my favorites that offer high rewards, free lodging and extra perks for loyal cardholders. Hotel-branded cards, unlike most airline cards or retail cards, can actually be worth your while. Frequent guests will discover benefits that both curb costs and add another dimension of luxury to the hotel experience. You can check to sign-up for these cards and more under Travel and Airline.

1. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve 

Citi® Hilton HHonors<sup>TM</sup> Reserve Card
Current Bonus: 
Two weekend night certificates, each good for one weekend night (standard room, double occupancy) at most hotels and resorts within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio, after $2,500 spend in 4 months. 
Other Benefits: 
10 points for every $1 spent on hotel stays within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio. 5 points for every $1 spent on airline and car rental purchases. 3 points for every $1 spent on all other purchases. Automatic Hilton HHonors Gold status; Diamond status with $40,000 annual spend. No foreign transaction fees. SmartChip technology. Visa Signature benefits. Cardholders who spend $10,000 annually get an anniversary free weekend-night certificate that can be used at any property 
Annual Fee:
Value: The value of the two free weekend nights could easily be worth $800-$1000, plus the free night at $10,000 in spend ($300) plus Gold status (Free-Breakfast, Upgrades etc ~$150) minus the annual fee of $95 = value of about $1,300 to me. I would use them at Conrad Koh Samui for a 2-night stay where a night can easily costs upwards of $500 or the gorgeous Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. Below is a snapshot of how much the rooms cost per night at Conrad Maldives (~$2400 per night …pheww!!)


conrad maldives



2. Starwood Preferred Guest Card

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express Application

Current bonus : Earn 10,000 Starpoints after your first purchase on the Card and an additional 15,000 Starpoints after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 6 months.
Other Benefits: 2 Starpoints per dollar spent on Starwood spend, 2 stays/5 nights towards elite status qualification, Gold status after $30,000 in spend per year. 
Annual Fee: 
$65, waived the first year.
Value: I value the Starpoints at about 2.5 cents a piece ($625 for the sign-up bonus) and I leverage the 2 stay/5 nights elite benefits (~$100) to hit Platinum status, so the total value to me is about $725 for this card. I signed up for this card when the offer was increased to 30,000 Starpoints and used it to stay for three nights at Le Meridien, Barcelona. The stay would have costed us upwards of $300 per night for which I used 30,000 Starwood points and $50 out of pocket.

Welcome Le Meredien Barcelona

We were welcomed to our suite in Barcelona with Cold Champagne and yummy chocolate coated strawberries!!


Barcelona suite 1

The view of La Ramblas from the room was breathtaking!










3. IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card

IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card Application

Current Bonus: 70,000 points after $1,000 spend in 3 months. 
Other Benefits: 
Earn 5 points per dollar spent at IHG properties, 2 points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Platinum Elite status. 10% points back on all IHG Rewards bookings. Annual free night at any property worldwide upon card anniversary. 
Annual Fee:
$49, waived first year
Value: I value IHG Rewards points at about .7 cents a piece so 70,000 = $490  plus the 10% return on all award bookings would be at a minimum 70,000 from the sign-up bonus, so 7,000 points ($49) and Platinum status ($50) for a total value of about $589. You can maximize the reward stay by reading my article on scoring IHG Hotels worldwide for 5000 points. Via the sign-up bonus you could almost score 14 nights at 5000 points per night via the pointsbreak offer IHG Hotels rolls-out every few months. I would use my anniversary night to stay at IHG Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort

You could use your anniversary night y to enjoy this breathtaking view. Great use of the $49 annual fees to score these bungalows which go for almost $1000 a night


4. Hyatt Visa

The Hyatt Credit Card
Current Bonus: 2 free nights at Hyatt properties worldwide after $1,000 spend in 3 months.
Other Benefits: Receive automatic Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum elite membership . Earn 3 points for every $1 spent at all Hyatt properties. Earn 2 points for every $1 spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, and at car rental agencies. Earn 1 point for every $1 spent elsewhere. No foreign transaction fees. Smart Chip technology and extra protections. Free night at category 1-4 property every year after your card anniversary.
Annual Fee: $75, waived first year
Value: Those two free nights could easily be worth $800 a night considering they’re valid at all Hyatt hotels including swanky Park Hyatt properties around that world, plus $50 for elite membership gives this card an value to me of about $1600. You could use your 2 free nights to stay at Park Maldives Hadahaa, Park Hyatt Tokyo to name a few.


Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa



Best Park Hyatt to Stay 2 Free Nights with the Hyatt Visa

Park Hyatt Tokyo


5. US Bank Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature



Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature card






Current Bonus: 85,000 Gold Points – 50,000 after first purchase, 35,000 after $2,500 spend in 90 days
Other Benefits: 
10 points per dollar on eligible purchases at participating Carlson Rezidor hotels worldwide, and 5 points per dollar elsewhere. 40,000 bonus points each year after you renew your card and pay the annual fee. Bonus Award Nights –when Gold Points are redeemed for two or more consecutive award nights, the last night is free – exclusively for cardmembers. Automatic Gold Elite Status once the card is used. Existing Gold Elite members receive 15 qualifying nights toward Concierge Elite Status.
Annual Fee: $75
Value: I value Club Carlson points at about 0.6 cents a piece, so the 85,000 = $510 plus the free award night benefit is an easy way to save at least 70,000 points a year ($420) plus $25 in elite status perks – $75 = $880 in value to me. I absolutely love the fact that your last night is always free on stays of 2+ nights. A couple can combine these to easily stay at some top hotels around the world for free!! For example, you can use 50,000 points to stay at Radisson Blu Resort Marina & Spa, St. MartinRadisson Blu Hotel Waterfront, Cape TownRadisson Blu Plaza Hotel SydneyRadisson Blu Le Metropolitan Hotel, Paris Eiffel and many more!!

Radisson Blu Sydney

Radisson Blu Sydney

Radisson Blu Cape Town

Radisson Blu Cape Town

Radisson Blu Eiffel


I’d love to know which cards you have or plan to sign up for and where would you use your free nights?


You can visit to sign up for many of these limited time offers

Categories: cheap travel, Club Carlson, Conrad, Europe, free travel, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG Hotel, Radisson, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Complete Guide to Bluebird, Serve, Softserve and Target Redcard

The complete guide to Bluebird, REDcard, Serve, and SoftServe

Bluebird, REDcard, Serve, and Serve with Softcard…  These are prepaid reloadable American Express cards intended to be viable fee-free checking account alternatives.  Even better, they are all good choices for those who primarily want to earn miles and points.  The problem is… each person can have only one.  So, which is best?

The answer to “which card is best?” depends upon your personal situation.  No single card is better than all others for everyone.  However, depending upon your situation, there is almost certainly a best card for you.  In this guide, I’ll give you the information you need to decide which card is best for you.


The four prepaid cards all run on the same technology platform and they therefore have a lot in common.  They are all prepaid reloadable American Express cards.  This means that, unlike credit cards, you need to load money to these cards before you can use them (although, another option is to setup linked backup funding sources).  Once money is loaded, these cards can be used like American Express credit cards to make purchases, or can be used at ATMs for cash withdrawals, or can be used like a bank account to pay bills.


Bluebird was formed from a collaboration between American Express and Walmart. Even though Serve predated Bluebird, Bluebird was the first prepaid card to be a realistic fee-free checking account alternative.  And, at the time of this writing, Bluebird continues to be the only Amex prepaid product that offers a checkbook for writing checks yourself.

REDcard (Target Prepaid REDcard AKA Redbird)

I am in exploratory phase with REDcard but might switch from serve to here soon. Where Bluebird was formed in collaboration with Walmart, REDcard is with Target.  At the time of this writing, it is only available in specific stores within specific states (found here),   REDcard is unique among these prepaid cards, though, in that it can be reloaded at the Target register with a credit card.  This makes REDcard especially attractive to those who want to earn credit card rewards without the hassles involved in other approaches.


Serve has been around quite a while and it has changed a lot over time, mostly for the better.  For example, Amex has recently greatly expanded the number of locations in which Serve could be reloaded at the register.  You can now reload Serve with debit cards at both Walmart and Family Dollar, for example (Note: Some readers has found that Family Dollar no longer accepts debit cards for this, but others continue to have success).  You can also reload at the register at CVS, but only with cash.  One of the features that make Serve stand out above Bluebird and REDcard is that it can be loaded online via credit card, up to $1000 per month.  Unfortunately, some credit cards charge cash advance fees for this.  So you should do a trial with small amount and see if your credit card quotes the charge as “sale” or “cash advance”.

Serve with SoftCard (AKA SoftServe)

SoftCard is a system designed to allow people to make in-person payments via their phone.  The system then directs those charges to a linked credit card or prepaid card (Serve).  Once you have SoftCard setup and installed on your smartphone, you can sign up for Serve through the app.  Serve with Softcard, or SoftServe, is virtually identical to regular Serve, but has higher online load limits.  So, for example, instead of loading just $1000 per month with a credit card online, you can load up to $1500 per month with SoftServe.

Which is best for you?

Please read through the comparison tables below to identify the differences between cards that matter the most to you.  For simplicity, though, here are my quick recommendations.

For maximizing rewards:

  • If you want to maximize credit card spend and savings opportunities regardless of thecomplexity involved, then get SoftServe (Serve with Softcard).
  • If you want to maximize credit card spend and savings opportunities, but you do not have (and do not want to get) cell phone hardware and service required for SoftCard, then getServe.
  • If you want the simplest possible option for earning credit card rewards with the lowest possible fees, get the Target Prepaid REDcard.

For convenience and shopping:

  • If you frequently shop at Walmart, get Bluebird.
  • If you frequently shop at Target, get REDcard.
  • If you find yourself often in or near Walmart or Family Dollar, regardless of whether you actually shop at those locations, get Serve or SoftServe.

Comparison Tables

The following tables show each card side by side.  Notable advantages are marked with green backgrounds.  Notable negatives are marked with red backgrounds.

How to get the card

Bluebird REDcard Serve SoftServe
Order online Y N Y Via SoftCard App
Buy temp card in-store Y
Select  Target stores
Many stores such as CVS
Temp card fee $5 $0 to $5 $0 to $3.95 N/A
Monthly fee $0 $0 $1 (free w/ $500 load) $0

At the time of this writing, there are very few participating Target stores where one can get started with REDcard.   And, SoftServe requires specific phone hardware and service before one can get started.  For those reasons, Bluebird and Serve have a distinct advantage for those eager to get started.

How to reload

Bluebird REDcard Serve SoftServe
Direct deposit Y Y Y Y
Deposit check (with smart phone app) Y N Y Y
Online debit (not gift cards) Y
Up to $1K / month
Up to $1K / month
Up to $1K / month
Up to $1.5K / month
Online credit N N Y
Up to $1K / month
Up to $1.5K / month
In-store kiosk Y
In-store debit (including gift cards with PINs) Y
Walmart, Family Dollar
YWalmart, Family Dollar
In-store credit N Y
Via reload cards Y
Vanilla Reload
Vanilla Reload, Money-Pak, ReloadIt
Vanilla Reload, Money-Pak, ReloadIt
In-store + reload card limits $5000 per month $5000 per month $5000 per month $5000 per month

If you’re reading this page, you probably want to find the card that is best for earning credit card rewards.  There are several ways this can happen:

  • Online debit loads: use a rewards earning debit card or a debit card that is reloadable with a credit card.  Increasingly, both options are difficult or impossible to find, so this option is of very limited use to most people.  You cannot use gift cards as debit cards for online loads.
  • Online credit loads: This is a great way to earn rewards easily and automatically, but some credit cards charge cash advance fees.  Serve lets you load $1000 a month using credit card but you may want to perform a small trial ($20) and see how the charge goes through (sale or cash advance)
  • In-store debit: Unless you are lucky enough to have a debit card that earns rewards, the trick here is to use your rewards credit card to buy Visa or MasterCard gift cards with PINs, and use those as debit cards to reload your prepaid card.
  • In-store credit: Currently the REDcard is the only known option for this route.  I believe that all credit cards will treat REDcard reloads at Target as regular purchases and will therefore earn rewards. I will be trying the REDcard here in the next few days
  • Reload cards: Vanilla Reload cards and Greendot MoneyPaks are cards that can be bought at various stores, and then money from those cards can be transferred to prepaid reloadable cards online (or, at the register in some cases).  It is becoming increasingly difficult, but not impossible, to find stores that allow reload cards to be purchased with a credit card.

How to save money with each card

Bluebird REDcard Serve SoftServe
Wal-mart promos Y N N N
Target 5% off N Y N N
Small biz Saturday Y N Y Y
Amex Sync Promos Y N Y Y
SoftCard promos N N N Y

As you can see above, each of these cards offer different opportunities for saving money.  The options that work best for you probably depend heavily on your shopping habits.  Regular Walmart shoppers will like the Walmart promos whereas regular Target shoppers will enjoy 5% off all purchases.  Don’t discount the Amex Sync promos and SoftCard promos, though.  For those who like to eek out the most of every deal, there are often big opportunities for savings with each.

How to use card funds

Bluebird REDcard Serve SoftServe
Foreign exchange fee? N N Y
Fee free ATM Y
Money Pass
AllPoint Network
Money Pass
Money Pass
Other ATMs $2.50 N/A $2.50 $2.50
Free online bill pay Y Y Y Y
Write your own checks Y N N N
Withdraw to linked bank account Y Y Y Y
Send money to others Y Y Y Y

All of the cards in this roundup offer easy access to your money once its loaded.  In fact, with all 4 cards, you can simply transfer the money to your bank account or even use the online bill pay function to send a check to yourself, for free.  A few notable differences though are as follows:

  • Serve and SoftServe charge foreign exchange fees so they’re poor choices for using outside of the United States.
  • REDcard cannot be used at ATMs outside of the AllPoint network.
  • Bluebird offers checkbooks with which you can write your own checks.

Let me know and share with other readers in the discussion session your success story using these prepaid cards.

Categories: bluebird, Credit cards, serve, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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