Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It's Like Getting Gear for Free

Do you want free gear?  A lens or a flash perhaps?  Here are my favorite ways of getting gear painlessly.
1.  Change we can believe in.
I put all my spare change in a jar.  After a while it adds up.  Ask your bank if they will convert coins into cash.  If not, try Coinstar.  Coinstar normally charges a 9% fee but if you choose to receive your money as a gift certificate with certain partners, there's no fee.  Fortunately, one of those partners is Amazon, which usually has pretty good prices.  Recently I brought a jar of coins to my local Coinstar and got a gift certificate for $88. That's easily enough for a Yongnuo YN-560!
2. Let your bank work for you.
Some banks have reward programs.  I use Citibank, which offers ThankYou points that can be redeemed for stuff.  Signing up for ThankYou points doesn't cost me anything and I would use Citibank's services anyway, so this is like getting something for nothing.
Citibank's ThankYou rewards are pretty diverse and even includes a Nikon SB-900 (81,100 points).  However, I find I get a better deal by trading my points for gift certificates with their partners.  A couple of those partners have camera gear: J&R and Best Buy.  I find that J&R (jr.com) usually has decent prices that are often comparable to Amazon's.
A few tips:
  • Check if you get more rewards for your points if you choose higher denominations.  For example, for J&R, a $50 certificate is 6,000 points while a $100 certificate is 10,000 points (17% discount).
  • With some partners, you're limited to only one certificate per transaction.  It pays to read the terms and conditions.
  • Some rewards are available only to Citi credit cardholders with ThankYou points.  You may want to sign up for such a card to get more for your Thankyou points (last I checked, there was no annual fee).
  • With Citi's program, you can earn points by using your debit card.  That's one reason to use a debit card instead of a credit card.
3. Charge!
Many credit cards offer rewards.  It seems to me that the best ones end up with only around 1% cashback, whether it's in the form of cash, rewards, or whatever.  I found a few exceptions to the 1% rule, though:
  • Discover: if you exchange your points for gift certificates with certain partners, you effectively get more than 1%.  Here are some of those partners (with camera gear): Brookstone: 50% bonus.  Crutchfield 25% bonus.  Barnes & Noble: 11% bonus.  Dell: 11% bonus.  Overstock.com: 11% bonus.
  • Target: this won't get you free gear per se, but this is a great way to save.  If you have a Target credit card, you get 5% discount both at their retail stores and online.  In addition, for every $1,000 you spend you get a 10% discount card for retail stores *and* a 10% code online.  Best of all, the 10% discount is combined with the 5% Target card discount, effectively resulting in a 15% discount!  The net effect is that as long as you use the 10% discount card for a purchase that's more than $100, you effectively get more than 1% cashback.  For example, if you use it to buy a $1000 camera, then you'll get a $100 discount (on top of the 5% discount).  The extra $100 discount you got for spending $1,000 to get the points is like a 10% cashback - far higher than the usual 1% cashbackUpdate: Target has canceled its rewards program.
Target's prices aren't always the lowest especially when compared to online prices (though one time I found a Transformers toy at Target for less than $10 while Walmart was selling the same toy for $12).  However, there are some items that are almost the same price anywhere -- online or retail.  Apple and some Nikon products for example.  On those items, a 15% discount is huge!
Just a reminder: credit card interest rates tend to be pretty high.  That's why I always pay my card in full and never carry a balance. ;)