Category: Saving Money

“Dispute Charge” is your friend – use it

“Dispute Charge” is your friend – use it

All of us have probably been cheated out of some money by a merchant at some point or another (if not, consider yourself very very lucky).

The next step is often arguing with them, either in person, over the phone, or online. If you’re lucky (and/or they care more about your repeat business than a small amount of money), maybe you get your money back. But as is sometimes the case with larger, more indifferent corporations, they may just put you through endless customer service loops (and/or just say “No”).

Unfortunately, this is where many people tend to stop the process, cut their losses, and move on. But if you paid for the transaction with a credit card (or even debit card), it doesn’t need to stop here (which is yet another reason to never pay for anything in cash if you don’t have to).

When you make a credit card or debit card transaction, you’re not actually paying the merchant, rather, you’re paying the credit card company, who takes a cut out of the payment, as does the payment organization (Visa/Mastercard/AMEX/Discover), which transfers the money to the bank of the merchant (the processor also takes a cut, as it allows the merchant to accept credit cards).

All major credit card companies will allow you to dispute a charge if you feel that you have unfairly been charged for something. In this case, they will usually ask you a series of questions about why you’re disputing the charge, then temporarily remove the charge from your statement so that you’re not responsible for it, and begin their investigation.

During the investigation, they will reach out to the merchant to get the merchant’s side of the story. If the merchant doesn’t answer within a certain amount of time (usually 2-4) weeks, then you will automatically be ruled in favor of and have the money refunded back to you. More often though, the merchant will respond and it will then be up to the credit card company to decide. During this process, you may receive a call for them asking for additional information and/or further documentation. The more documentation you can provide, the better! Note that before you file a dispute, you must make an attempt to resolve it with the merchant first. If you do not, they will reject it and tell you to first try that.

In the end, you hope the company rules in favor of you, though there have been situations where I have contested the original decision and won.

So far, I have never lost a dispute, but part of that is also being rational about what I dispute and what I don’t dispute. For one, any attempts to try and game the system to get something for free will not only be rejected, but probably hurt your relationship with your credit card company and the merchant (if applicable), reducing the amount of effort they put into future requests. For example, you can’t buy a $1,000 airline ticket then dispute that based on the fact that you didn’t realize how expensive it was. You also can’t dispute a restaurant bill saying that you didn’t like the food.

So what kind of things have I used it for?

-A rental car company added on a charge that wasn’t part of the contract I signed.

-I returned merchandise (within the stated terms) but never received a credit for it.

-The third-party software I use to book work travel added on an extra fee to book my reservation.

-FedEx delivered my package a week later than they said they would (in this case, it’s likely that had I actually gotten through to someone at FedEx they would have handled it internally, but their online dispute system was down and I never got off hold).

-I paid for a tour in advance and then was charged again for certain items once I arrived on the tour.

I think you get the picture.

Inequal advocacy

Unfortunately, your chances of winning the dispute are not only based on the merit of your claim, but also the quality of the disputers at your credit card company. I have by far found American Express to be the best at disputing claims (both for their easy method of filing one online, and their quick resolution, always in my favor). As a result, whenever I’m dealing with a merchant whom I may be suspicious of, I’ll try to pay with an American Express card so that I’m covered in case something happens.

Chase and Citi also allow for online filing of disputes, but tend to be a little slower. Barclaycard unfortunately requires you to call in order to file a dispute, which is super frustrating.

Generally though, as long as your claim has merit, you should come out with your money back; it just may take a little while depending on who’s disputing your claim.

Feel free to post any good dispute stories in the comments!


Unless you’re going somewhere with amazing public transit or walkability, it’s usually cheaper to rent a car on international trips

Unless you’re going somewhere with amazing public transit or walkability, it’s usually cheaper to rent a car on international trips

For some reason, Americans seem to have a strange aversion to renting cars in foreign countries. I am always shocked at how much people shell out for cabs and tours in foreign countries where the roads are just as good as the ones in the US (if not better), the drivers are as good (or better), and they still drive on the same side of the road.

Now, I get that for some people, traveling internationally is supposed to be a leisure activity where you let someone else do all the work and get away from your daily routine, which I could understand somewhat especially for people that drive many miles in traffic every day for their job. But is that really worth hundreds (if not thousands of dollars) more?

A prime example of this would be Iceland, where seemingly everyone you know has either gone recently or plans to go soon (and is a place which I love for its amazing hot springs). While admittedly going in March was before high season, I booked a car rental six weeks in advance for $215 USD for nine days, or roughly $24 per day. We literally drove around the entire island  (probably around 900 miles) and spent $267.51 on gas (and before you say, “It’s not that much cheaper since gas is so expensive in Europe,” remember that not only are the cars more fuel efficient, but the cabs and tours are proportionally more expensive too).

Given that most comparable guided tours are packages that include lodging, it’s impossible to know how much the transportation cost of a similar guided tour would be, but given that many are around $1400/person with lodging, it’s likely that even without lodging, it still far exceeds the $241 per person cost my friend and I spent on transportation.

Now, despite my constant pleadings to people to spend longer in Iceland and drive around the whole country, I realize a nine-day trip may be excessive for some people. Icelandair and WOW have been doing extremely well recently promoting their stopover fares, where someone can fly from the US to somewhere else in Europe and add on a multi-day (or single-day) stop in Iceland for no additional charge. Let’s look at a popular one-day itinerary of Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon, and the Golden Circle. This is roughly a 200 mile trip (including the return) from the airport, so in a rental car for $24/day that gets 40 miles per gallon with gas at $8 per gallon (just a guess), that’s $40 of gas or $64 total.

A tour from Reykjavik is $82 per person, but that doesn’t include the cost of getting to Reykjavik from the airport, which is an extra $39 per person by bus or $117 by cab. And this still doesn’t include the Blue Lagoon. Obviously, the cost savings are not as significant for a solo traveler, but with more people, the cost of the rental car and gas still stay the same; the tour and bus costs (calculated per person) do not.

But even putting cost aside, the other nice thing about renting a car is the “Ooh this looks really cool, let’s pull over!” factor which you can have when in a rental car. The cover photo from this post is from a recent trip I took to Sommarøy, Norway and I was so struck by how beautiful the bridge was that I had to stop. Or when I was driving around Iceland, I was struck by the beauty of all of the ponies on the side of the road:


You lose this aspect if you’re in a big group van where individual requests can’t always be accomodated.

But it doesn’t always make sense

As the title of this post notes, renting a car does not always make sense when traveling internationally. For one, there are certain countries which may restrict renting a car to citizens of that country (for example, China).

And in some, like Japan (where you can rent with an International Driving Permit), it doesn’t make any sense, given the amazing high-speed rail system that runs everywhere (as well as the amazing subways within urban areas).

In other countries with safety issues, it also may make sense to hire a driver in case you run into any sort of trouble. These countries also can sometimes be very unaffordable anyway due to high mandatory insurance costs.

But wait

But contrary to popular belief, one situation that should not deter you from renting a car is being in a country that drives on the other side of the road. There usually is no legal requirement in these countries to be from a country that also drives on the same side, and while it may feel weird at first, you can usually adapt in 15-20 minutes. And you never know what kind of animals you may encounter, as was the case with this baboon I ran into outside of Cape Town, South Africa:


This post took longer than expected to write and while I was originally going to also write about rental car insurance in this post, I think it’s best saved for another post.

But if you have any questions on the above, let me know!

All photos by Mark Ayoub.

Remember to set a PIN on all of your credit cards

Remember to set a PIN on all of your credit cards

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I find that Charles Schwab offers the best checking account for frequent travelers, due to their wide acceptance at ATMs all over the world, no foreign transaction or withdrawal fees, and excellent customer service. But there are times when even they cannot get the job done.

Yesterday in Jordan I needed to fill up my car with gas, and I was out of local currency and most gas stations there don’t accept credit cards. I tried to make a withdrawal with my Schwab card at an ATM and received an error message. I called the international collect number on the back of my card, and they told me that they had not received any request to withdraw funds. I then tried to make a withdrawal with my Capital One backup card, and had the same issue; apparently this particular ATM doesn’t like US debit cards.

Thankfully, I then inserted one of my credit cards, entered the pin I had set up for it, and processed a cash advance for just enough money to get me by. Now, I of course don’t normally recommend cash advances, as the fees on them can often be in the 20-25% range (and no, you don’t earn points on them and they don’t count toward your minimum spending requirement to earn a bonus). But in a pinch, especially when traveling in countries with less developed banking systems, it can be critical.


How to set this up varies by issuer, but you’ll generally either be prompted to set one up when activating a card, or be mailed one separately when you set up a card.


Note that this is different from chip + PIN technology, which is an obviously beneficial anti-fraud technology widely used throughout Europe that requires the user to enter a pin when making a credit card purchase. Alas, the US lags behind in this, having only implemented regular chip technology last year. If you are interested in having this though (as it can be useful at gas stations and ticket machines in Europe which only allow chip + PIN purchases), many credit cards from Barclaycard have this.


There are all sorts of great $1 bus fares available on Megabus right now (even on the West Coast)

There are all sorts of great $1 bus fares available on Megabus right now (even on the West Coast)

Budget bus carrier Megabus recently opened up bookings to as far out as September 6, and as of the writing of this post, there are all sorts of usually elusive $1 bus fares available on very popular routes for very popular times.

Since moving back to Boston from San Francisco, bus travel has become a far more regular occurrence for me. Given that it’s a 4.5-hour bus ride from Boston to Manhattan is only slightly more time than it takes to fly between the two cities (once you factor in getting to the airport early, getting off the plane, and the significant amount of time it takes to get to Manhattan from any of the three New York City-area airports), I often choose to take the bus, as it’s far cheaper, I often can spread out more, make calls, and usually have pretty reliable wifi. (And if you take the train, which you can do for free if you accrue Amtrak points well, it will take you even less time).

Knowing that I had a few New York trips coming up, I instantly hopped on this sale to purchase some tickets for myself.

Doing a random search for some weekends a few months out yields quite a lot of results, like this Friday night to Sunday night itinerary between Boston and New York (note that the booking fee is $2, so it comes out to a $4 roundtrip ticket than $2):

bos nyc

The deal is even on for the far less popular (and longer) LA to SF route, one I’m still hoping for the Hyperloop to address, assuming it doesn’t go the way of the Monorail. Given that it’s about a 7.5-hour ride, I’m only expecting people with a fair amount of work flexibility to snatch this up, but it’s still worth noting:


Booking is relatively straightforward, and can be done by going to the Megabus home page.

And before you jump on me, I am aware of Megabus’ questionable safety record. I’ve never had any issues with them, even finding the drivers to be better than others. It is a risk I choose to take.

While I’m sure there’s many other great $1 deals available, I chose to focus on these two particular routes, given how popular both of them are. If you found another great deal that you’d like to share, feel free to post about it in the comments or email me.

(h/t BoardingArea)


The 1,000% cash back credit card that no one ever talks about (or, an easy way to make $100 a year)

The 1,000% cash back credit card that no one ever talks about (or, an easy way to make $100 a year)

OK, so I admit the title may be slightly misleading (is this what the kids are calling “clickbait” these days?)

While this is technically correct, it does take some explaining. Several years ago, Bank of America launched the Better Balance Rewards credit card, a card presumably intended to reward people for managing their credit better (certainly a big issue in America). The premise is pretty simple: For every quarter (three statement periods) in which you make more than the minimum payment on your balance in every month, you get $25 (and $30 if you have a Bank of America checking account).

Well, if you’re one of those people who already manages their credit responsibly and pays their balance in full every month, you may be wondering why this is of use to you. Well, the good news is that everyone is available to earn this bonus, and all you have to do is charge $1 to your card every month and pay that dollar off by the time your statement is due (it may be possible that you can get it for charging even less than $1, but I haven’t chanced it and haven’t found reports of other people doing it either).

In other words, if you charge $1 every month for three months ($3) to this card and have a Bank of America checking account, you’ll get $30, or 1,000% cash back. Of course, this isn’t a truly 1,000% cash back card as the reward is fixed. If you charge $30 in it to three months, it becomes a 100% cash back card. If you charge $1,000 to it in three months, it becomes a 3% cash back card, and so on. In other words, I wouldn’t recommend charging any more than you have to. If you’re worried you might forget to manually make a charge every month, you might consider using this card to make automatic payments on a utility bill every month so you don’t have to think about it. Just make sure you also set up automatic payments to pay the balance in full on your credit card!

The credit will usually post a few days into the statement period following the third month:


However, as Bank of America continues to impose all sorts of fees on their checking account customers without offering competitive interest rates, it’s more likely than not that like me, you’ve switched away from your Bank of America account that you opened up your freshman year of college (if you even did open up one). If this is the case, it will yield $25 for you every three months, or $100/year. If you’re looking for ways to make $100/year with minimal effort, it’s hard to beat this (on the contrary, to earn $100 in interest from your checking account, you’d have to keep $10,000 in it for a whole year at 1% APY, or $1,000,000 at 0.01% APY, which is closer to the rates most banks are offering these days).

If you really want to get as much out of this as possible and open up a Bank of America checking account to get the extra $5, you can avoid the $12 monthly fee by either having an average daily balance of $1,500 or more, monthly direct deposits of $250 or more, or being a Preferred Rewards client (which requires 3-month combined average balances of at least $20,000 between your Bank of America checking account and Merrill Lynch/Merrill Edge investment accounts). For most people (including me), this isn’t worth the effort.

I honestly don’t know why Bank of America would offer a credit card that allows it to lose so much money from their customers who use credit responsibly (and it’s possible they may discontinue it if they’re losing more than they’re making), but in the meantime, I’m not complaining. While $100/year may not seem like much, at this rate, if I hold on to it until I die, that’s an extra $7,000 or so I’ll make (of course, whether credit cards will be around in that many years is another story for another post).

Have questions about something here? Feel free to e-mail me or post in the comments below.

How to make (a little bit of) money paying your taxes

How to make (a little bit of) money paying your taxes

He wants YOU to save money!


While I realize this is at heart a travel blog, credit cards are an important part of not only how I accrue miles to travel, but also how I save money so that I have more to spend on travel.

With tax season approaching, I thought this might be an appropriate post.

Depending on your age, if you are lucky enough to owe the government money for your taxes, you likely either pay by writing a check, or doing an ACH debit from your checking account.

Generally, paying one’s taxes with a credit card is frowned upon, due to the fees charged.

But here’s the thing: As long as the percent cash back you earn on your card is higher than the percent that’s charged for paying your taxes with a credit card, you’ll come out ahead. You might even be able to use this strategy to meet minimum spending requirements on a card.

Right now, the cheapest rate for paying your federal taxes with a credit card is 1.87% (or $2.59, so you’ll want to make sure the payment is at least $138), charged by Therefore, you need a card that gets at least 2% back on all purchases to come out ahead.

For people just looking for something simple, the Citi Double Cash Card is a bit unique in that there is no signup bonus, but also no annual fee, and you earn 1% back when you make a purchase, and 1% back when you pay it off.

Other cards that offer 2% back when redeemed for travel purchases include the Capital One Venture and Barclays Arrival Plus World Elite.

Of course, getting 2% cash back on a payment that is charging 1.87% extra only yields a net cash back of .13%, or, $1.30 for every $1,000, which isn’t really much, though it can be useful if you’re trying to meet a minimum spending bonus, or if you’re waiting on money to transfer into your checking account.

UPDATED 3/11: The new kid on the block

If you haven’t at least heard about the Chase Sapphire Reserve by now, then I do wonder if you’ve been living under a rock, given that it was so popular that Chase ran out of metal cards and lost $300 million on it. But you shouldn’t use it to pay your taxes. It gets 1x back on all purchases that aren’t dining or travel, and those points are multiplied by 1.5 cents per point when redeeming for airfare. So if you redeem for airfare, you’ll still come out behind .37% (1.5-1.87).

But here’s where it gets interesting. Having the Reserve means that the value of your Ultimate Rewards points will get multiplied by 1.5 no matter how you earn them. This is where the Chase Freedom Unlimited comes into play. The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a good card for “everything else” purchases, as it earns a flat 1.5x back on everything.

See where I’m heading here? If you pay your taxes with a Chase Freedom Unlimited, you’ll get 1.5x back, which means you’ll be at a loss, but once those get multiplied by the 1.5 from the Reserve when redeeming for airfare, that means you’re getting 2.25% back (assuming that you redeem for airfare), or .38%. Now again, this isn’t a ton ($3.80 for every $1,000), but it’s something.

So can we do even better? Maybe a 3% card? Yes. Well, kinda.

The Discover It Miles card is another unique card, in that there is no signup bonus or annual fee, and it offers you 1.5% cash back on all your purchases, but doubles your rewards your first year, in other words, giving you 3%. Therefore, if you were to time the opening of your card and payment of your federal taxes, you could use this card to get 3% back on your federal taxes twice (e.g. open the card March 1, pay your federal taxes for the current year on March 15, and then pay your taxes for the next year on February 15). This will now boost you up to a net of 1.13% cash back, or $11.30 for every $1,000. It’s not a ton of money, but it’s a little bit more (and personally, with all the independent consulting work I did last year, I know I’ll be paying more than that in taxes).

The Discover It Miles card is also just a great all-around card to have, namely in that it not only has no annual fee, but also no foreign transaction fees, and up to $30 in in-flight WiFi credit every year, on any airline. (Of course, there is tremendous irony in Discover trying to market a card to be used abroad, given how much trouble they have with acceptance in the US*).

And while I don’t have time to go through the credit card fees for state tax rates, I know that California’s is 2.3%, so if you want to make any money from paying your California state taxes, the Discover It Miles card is your only choice.


Happy filing!


Did I miss something? Have questions? Feel free to e-mail me or post in the comments below.


*I really wanted to instead link to the Futurama clip about Discover, but could not find a video of this anywhere on the internet without paying. If you have a link to this scene, please let me know and I’ll replace the Family Guy link.