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Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen looks at ways to maximize purchases for sports fans
Fall is my favorite time of year, not just for the approaching cooler weather and the holidays it ushers in, but also because fall (in my humble opinion) is the absolute best time to be a sports fan. The college football season is less than two weeks old, the NFL kicked off this past Thursday, and baseball pennant races are heating up. The NBA, NHL, and NCAA basketball seasons will start soon.
I’m sure the sports fans among you are thinking about purchasing tickets, apparel, and other sports-related items. Today I want to share some strategies to help you maximize those purchases so you can root on your favorite teams with more points, miles, and cash in your pockets.
Going to a game is the pinnacle of sports fandom. Fortunately, there are several cards out there that offer bonuses for ticket purchases. Last week, I wrote a detailed profile of the Citi Premier card, one of the greatest benefits of which is that it offers 3 points per dollar on entertainment, which includes sporting events. The card currently offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 ThankYou points: 20,000 after spending $3,000 within three months in the first year of cardmembership; the other 30,000 points after spending another $3,000 in the first three months of year two. The $125 annual fee is waived for the frist year, but not the second.
There are a couple of other Citibank-issued cards that offer bonus points for sports ticket purchases. The Citi ThankYou Preferred Card offers 2x points on entertainment with no annual fee, and currently offers a sign-up bonus of 15,000 ThankYou points after spending $1,000 in the first three months.
Starting October 19th, the Citi Prestige will also offer double points on these purchases. The current sign-up bonus on the Prestige card is 40,000 points after spending $4,000 in 3 months, though there is a hefty $450 annual fee. For more on this card, see my recent comparison of Prestige and other premium cards. Keep in mind that Citi ThankYou points are transferable to 10 partners (and counting) only when you hold the Premier or Prestige cards, which should factor into your decision if you’re considering one of these cards.
One important caveat with these cards (and this really holds true for ANY card with bonus spend categories): at the end of the day, whether you earn bonus points or miles depends on how the card issuer classifies the merchant running the transaction. Purchasing tickets directly from a team will basically always be categorized as an entertainment expense. However, purchases in a stadium or arena may not be.
Last month, my wife and I attended a concert in West Palm Beach, and I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to purchase some food & drinks. Lo and behold, the expense was (thankfully) categorized as dining, so I received double points. Whether that foam finger from the stadium gift shop earns you 3 points/$ on the Citi Premier is completely out of your hands (no pun intended).
Another option for pro football fans is the NFL Extra Points credit card from Barclaycard. This provides 2 points per dollar spent on game tickets, and offers automatic six-month interest free financing for NFL ticket purchases over $500. However, tickets must be purchased directly from the team’s ticket office to be eligible for the bonus points and special financing.
The card has no annual fee and a current sign-up bonus of 10,000 points, though we’ve seen much larger sign-up bonuses in the past. You can choose your favorite team to picture on the card (click on “Change your team” when you get to the page pictured above). The points are worth 1 cent apiece when redeemed for a statement credit, but you can also use them towards game tickets, NFL apparel, or VIP experiences when logged into your account.
Unfortunately, the other “major” sports are more limited with their card offerings. Major League Baseball partners with Bank of America for the MLB Cash Rewards Mastercard from Bank of America, but this doesn’t provide any type of benefit on baseball-related purchases. The NBA doesn’t even have a credit card, but they do offer some benefits for fans that want to open a checking and/or savings account with BBVA Compass, including a $100 NBAStore.com gift card when you open an account and make three bill payments. The NHL offers the ScotiaHockey NHL Visa card, and you can redeem points for tickets and merchandise. However, it doesn’t help with ticket purchases, and since it’s offered by ScotiaBank, it’s limited to Canadian residents.
Finally, be sure to check out third-party sites that sell (or resell) sports tickets to a variety of events. Some teams or events use Ticketmaster exclusively, and tickets purchased there will count as entertainment purchases for bonus points on any of the cards mentioned above.
However, one of my favorite sites for purchasing tickets (to all kinds of events) is StubHub. In addition to a huge inventory, the site also has its own loyalty program: StubHub Rewards. You earn 2% on every purchase (or 3% if you earn “Superstar” status by making 10 purchases or spending $2,000 in a year), and once your balance hits $10, you are automatically issued a $10 FanCode that can be applied toward a future purchase.
You can also use a site like SeatGeek, which pulls available tickets from a variety of sites (kind of like the Kayak of the ticket world). However, they don’t have a loyalty program like StubHub.
Sports Team Apparel & Other Items
Of course, if you want to attend any live sporting events, you have to dress the part, and there are some very easy ways to maximize these purchases. While no major credit cards offer bonuses for sports retail purchases, as I’ve posted about previously with respect to computer purchases and back-to-school shopping, you can earn 5x points per dollar (or cash back) by buying gift cards at office supply stores with the Chase family of business cards: the Ink Plus, or Ink Cash cards. With this strategy, you are essentially creating a bonus spend category where one doesn’t exist. These cards can be purchased in-store, though Staples also provides a list of online eGift cards with no shipping fees, including both Sports Authority and Nike.
Another gift card option is Kohl’s. It may not seem like an obvious choice, but Kohl’s does have a fan shop with a variety of clothing items (for men and women) and many other options to show your school or team spirit. Also, through the end of September you can earn 5x points on Kohl’s purchases with your Chase Freedom card. However, the deadline to activate this 5% cash back category is this coming Sunday, September 14. Remember too that by holding the Freedom card along with a “premium” Chase card (like the Sapphire Preferred), the 5% cash back actually becomes 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent.
You can also find gift cards at a variety of retailers in-store, including pharmacies, gas stations, and/or supermarkets. While you won’t be able to leverage the earning power of online shopping portals going this route (see below), it still could be helpful if you’re trying to meet the minimum spend on a new card or (more importantly) if you have a card that offers category bonuses on these type of purchases. For example, the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card gives double points at gas stations and supermarkets, while the Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card earns 3x points on drugstore purchases. I popped into the Duane Reade across the street from my hotel in NYC this past weekend, and I found both Nike and Sports Authority gift cards there (with flexible load amounts from $25 – $500):
Another option is to go straight to the source and purchase these items directly from league websites (like MLB.com or NFLshop.com) or in stores within the stadium/arena. First and foremost, this guarantees their authenticity. In addition, the NFL Extra Points credit card earns double points not only on tickets, but also at team stores and NFLshop.com. Furthermore, you get a 20% discount on purchases made at NFLshop.com. For Canadian readers, the ScotiaBank Visa mentioned above also gives a 20% discount at the NHL Store. If you’re a big fan (and big spender) with your favorite NFL or NHL team, these cards offer strong savings.
One final strategy is to leverage store (or website) loyalty programs. Sports Authority, for example, has a program called “The League.” You earn 1 point for every dollar spent, and if you earn 100+ points (by spending $100+) in a three-month period, you receive 5% of your total spend in rewards bucks. There are also many third-party websites that offer similar programs along with a greater selection of products, especially when it comes to more obscure college teams.
For example, if I wanted to purchase gear to cheer on my alma mater (Wake Forest), Sports Authority has a whopping 4 items total online, while both Nike and Kohl’s have exactly zero! As a result, I often find myself visiting sites like Fanatics. This gives me access to (at last count) 857 different Wake Forest items; plus, the free Fanatics Rewards program offers free shipping and returns on all orders, plus the ability to earn Fan Cash on purchases over $50.
Keep in mind that these strategies don’t stop with just spectator sports; you can also follow these same suggestions when it comes to purchasing athletic clothing or sporting equipment. You’ll likely see other stores that sell sportswear on the gift card racks (either in-store or online). For example, Golfsmith and Bass Pro Shops are both listed as options on Staples eGift Card site, allowing you to earn 5x points on purchases that would normally earn you a single point. Similarly, Office Depot and OfficeMax offer Foot Locker gift cards.
Online Shopping Portals & Discounts
Shopping portals are another avenue I’ve discussed at length before, so I’ll give a quick reminder now: be sure to check EVReward.com and then go through an online shopping portal whenever you’re purchasing anything online. EVReward even has a “Sports & Outdoors” category so you can quickly browse the bonus earning rates currently being offered to earn extra points, miles, or cash back. Here are some top bonuses I found for sports purchases:
- MLB.com: 6% cash back at Ebates
- Nike: 8% at Ebates
- Sports Authority: 6% cash back on Ebates or 5 extra Ultimate Rewards points/$
- Bass Pro: 5 extra Ultimate Rewards points/$
- Golfsmith: 6% cash back at Mr. Rebates
- NFL Shop: 5% at Mr. Rebates
As always, be sure to check sites like RetailMeNot for coupon/discount codes, Brad’s Deals for daily (or weekly) sales, and Groupon for specific items that might be on sale for a limited time. The page I linked to is for “Sports & Outdoors” items on Groupon, and the offerings range from NCAA License Plate Frames to golf clubs to NFL car mats. Keep in mind that Groupon deals are good for a limited time only, and they do partner with several shopping portals, so be sure to click through a partner portal to increase your earnings.
Even if you can’t make it to a game, you can try to capture the excitement in your own home. Fortunately, cable, satellite, and Internet providers are making it easier and easier to do this, even if you don’t live in the team’s local market. Many packages are delivered through a company called iN Demand, including MLB Extra Innings, NBA League Pass, MLS Direct Kick, and NHL Center Ice. Arguably the two best-known sports television packages are ESPN Game Plan (for college football) and NFL Sunday Ticket (exclusively through DirecTV). With all of these options, check with your local cable or satellite provider for more details and availability. My wife and I have AT&T U-Verse, and MLB Extra Innings (for example) isn’t even offered.
There are two key ways to maximize your points earning on these purchases. First, remember Chase Ink cards earn 5x points/$ on cable, satellite, and Internet purchases. Second, if you’re signing up for a TV sports package (or want to switch from one provider to another), be sure to check your preferred airline or hotel to see if they’re offering any type of a sign-up bonus. For example, both American and United are currently offering 25,000 miles to new DirecTV customers (with a 24-month agreement), which would be enough for a free domestic round-trip coach ticket.
Remember too that your cable provider may include online content. While AT&T U-Verse is not an authorized distributor of MLB Extra Innings, my wife and I do have access to ESPN3, which offers a variety of extra programming not available on one of ESPN’s normal TV stations. This was fantastic during the World Cup earlier this summer, as I was able to stream games live on my phone when I wasn’t home. My favorite part was when a rainstorm hit my hometown during overtime of the final match between Germany and Argentina. The bar where I was watching the game only had DirecTV, so I had 20 people huddled around my iPhone until the satellite signal was restored. Not a bad feature to have!
Hopefully these strategies will help you make the most of your sports purchases this fall, whether it’s to deepen your fandom for your favorite team or to support your own athletic endeavors.
If you have other suggestions along these lines, please share them in the comments section below!