Weekly output: Fastest Mobile Networks, Mark Vena podcast, streaming-video deals

The first item on this list doesn’t contain a single word written by me.

Screenshot of the Fastest Mobile Networks package as seen in Firefox on a Windows 10 laptop 8/24/2021: Fastest Mobile Networks 2021, PCMag

After years of citing PCMag’s drive testing in my work at Wirecutter and elsewhere, I contributed to it. I picked the test locations and did the driving for half of Baltimore, all of D.C., Raleigh, and Charlotte, and half of Atlanta–plus hundreds of miles, mostly on rural byways, between those cities.

8/25/2021: S01 E07 – SmartTechCheck Podcast by Parks Associates, Mark Vena

I joined my analyst friend’s podcast yet again; my major contribution was explaining my drive-testing work to listeners (or, for those who get the podcast via YouTube, viewers).

8/29/2021: Want to save on your streaming bill? Check your credit card reward, mobile carrier offers, USA Today

If you sign up for any of my Patreon tiers, you’ve been getting cheat sheets from me about which digital services offer cash-back offers through credit cards. This column walks USAT readers through this money-saving option and option and also notes the streaming freebies available on some wireless plans.

Weekly output: discounts on streaming-video services

It seems safe to say that I had a much easier and simpler work week than many other journalists around D.C.

1/22/2021: How Your Credit Card Can Get You Streaming Services For Less, Forbes

This is a how-to post about saving money doubling as a look at marketing strategies for all the new streaming-video services vying for a spot in your entertainment budget. So two of the people I quoted aren’t among my traditional sources for coverage of the TV business and instead speak to the time I spend trying to optimize my own credit-card spend: William Charles, founder of the Doctor of Credit deal-news site, and my friend BenĂ©t Wilson, senior credit-cards editor at my occasional client The Points Guy.

Here’s why I have trouble buying things quickly online

Like many of you, I’ve been doing a fair amount of online shopping. But I’ve probably been much slower at it than most of you.

Not “slower” in the sense of taking forever to pick one product over another (although my indecision-making there is considerable), but in the sense of deciding how I’ll pay for it and which third-party site I should click through before making the purchase.

Picking a credit card is the easier part even if I’m not buying stuff for my job (work expenses go on a separate card to ease my accounting). Most of the time, the 2% cash-back rebate on the Citi Double Cash Mastercard makes it the obvious choice. It’s been an even easier call when Citi’s offered extra cash back in promotions with various merchants.

But other card issuers have their own extra incentives. American Express and Chase offer extra cash back and do so much more often, but you have to sign up for each such offer on their sites or in their mobile apps. So I need to consult both before any purchase–and then hope the merchant in question doesn’t drop one of these deals the week after my purchase.

(Note that Amex and Chase also have tiered cash and points rewards for categories outside of online retail; a proper discussion of them would require a separate post.)

Not too many years ago, my shopping decisions would have ended there. But then I had to start considering shopping portals, the points-for-purchases sites most frequent-travel programs provide for members. By itself, a mile or a point for a dollar spent somewhere is barely worth thinking about. But that incremental addition does deserve your time if you’re nearing an award-redemption threshold or have miles or points that will expire without new activity in your account.

These portals don’t all offer the same rate or each offer the same rate over time. To verify which one offers the most return, I use a site called Cashback Monitor that tracks these deals and lets you set up a custom page with your favorites. (For more details, see this concise how-to by One Mile At A Time’s Tiffany Funk.) JetBlue consistently offers some of the best earn rates; fortunately, TrueBlue points have not seem the same deflation as other frequent-flyer currencies in recent years.

You may find no future-travel benefit for a potential purchase. Best Buy, Target and Walmart recently seem to have dropped out, while I can’t remember seeing any travel incentives for Amazon. In those cases, I’ll go to one last site before starting a purchase: my client Wirecutter, which often tells me what to buy and makes a decent chunk of its money off affiliate payments from Amazon and other retailers. If I can’t treat myself to a little kickback on a purchase, helping one of my favorite clients seems like a decent fallback.