There is such a thing as a free lunch ... beer, too

I signed up for another credit card the other day. I have no idea why. Actually, that's not true. I have a pretty good understanding of what caused me to do it.

First, the person on the other end of the line was very helpful when I called to tell the credit-card company that AOL was still charging me for Internet service months after I'd quit it.

Her attitude was so refreshing compared with the AOL customer service rep in India who talked in circles while I explained to him - again - that I wasn't interested in anything he had to offer, I was simply trying to get him to just stop billing me!

Then, the nice woman at the credit-card company offered me what sounded like a good deal: Money back for my purchases. I have a card that gets me discounts, but I didn't have one that actually gave cash back. So I was thinking about it ...

"But I don't really need another credit card," I said, trying to wriggle off the hook. "I have too many already."

"That's no problem," she replied with the easy skill of a seasoned saleswoman. "Sign up for this one and then cancel the other one you already have with us. This is a better deal."

I couldn't argue with her logic. So I bit. I hope she got a commission on the sale.

After all that, though, I still have no idea why I need another credit card. One should be plenty, right?

The only reason to have more than one card is to pile up more debt. And that's a very bad thing.

I learned long ago to pay off my credit card bills every month. I never carry a balance. I don't get cards with an annual fee. I don't transfer the balances, because they charge for that too. If you take only one piece of advice from the hundreds of columns I've written over the years, take that one: Pay off your balance.

At one time, credit cards were available only to people who were worthy of credit. Now anybody can get as many as they want.

As it turns out, maybe I should have held out for more perks. I read the other day how companies are coming up with all kinds of offers to persuade people to sign up for more credit cards.

According to an article by Caroline Mayer in the Washington Post, here are some of the more interesting deals:

n A NASCAR RacePoints Visa card earns reward points to become "Crew Chief for a Day." You need only 125,000 points to have your moment in the pits.

n People who aren't NASCAR fans and have trouble getting into trendy nightclubs in New York City may be interested in the IN:NYC card. It allows you to cut in line at hot spots such as Crobar and Lotus.

n Then, for the stay-at-home set, there is the GMAC Mortgage Equity Rewards card. For every $2,500 you charge on the card, you can trim your GMAC mortgage by $25.

n Bookworms can use Platinum Visa, which gives triple points for every dollar spent at Amazon as well as a $25 Amazon gift certificate for every 2,500 points.

n The caffeine-challenged can try the Starbucks Card Duetto, which credits a cardholder's account with 1 percent of his or her card purchases. The credits can be redeemed for Starbucks coffee.

n For the child in all of us, how about the Toys R Us Visa, which gives a 4 percent rebate on purchases at the national retail chain?

n Or if you're too old for toys, there is the AARP Rewards Platinum Visa. I'm not sure. It may get you 1 percent back on your Social Security taxes.

As attractive as these offers seem, I want a personalized rewards program. My credit card should earn points toward:

n Sending someone over to my house once a week to do the laundry.

n Cleaning up the dog doo-doo in my back yard.

n Providing a temp to come in and do my work for me whenever I feel like taking the day off.

Let's face it. Most of what we want from a credit-card rewards program is already available through a players card at a local casino. It works pretty much the same way. Spend a few hundred dollars, get a free cup of coffee.

I'm more interested in seeing another recent marketing fad spread to other industries. That would be the auto manufacturers' idea of giving us all employee discounts.

It was the auto industry that pioneered the idea of rebates. Buy an $18,000 automobile, get a check for $500. It didn't seem to make a lot of sense at the time - couldn't they just knock $500 off the price? - but people loved it. Everybody from coffeepot makers to funeral homes began offering rebates.

More recently, the auto industry also came up with the lure of zero percent financing. This really was a good deal for consumers. Of course, it pretty much drove the Big Three auto makers to the brink of bankruptcy, but it kept the factories operating and their union workers off the unemployment line.

Now it's employee discounts. So which are the best?

Let's start with the airline industry. Free travel.

Then there's Google, which provides free lunch every day. Starbucks employees get a free pound of coffee a week. Dell employees get a coupon every quarter for 10-15 percent off the company's products.

I'm holding out for the Anheuser Busch employee discount, though: Two free cases of beer a month.

Oops. I forgot. I can already drink for free at the casinos.

n Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at or 881-1221.


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