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Author Cathleen McCarthy

Cathleen McCarthy

Cathleen McCarthy writes CreditCards.com's weekly "Cashing In" column, answering readers' questions about credit card rewards, frequent flier programs and where the special deals are for travelers. 

McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications, including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Portfolio.com.

Ask Cathleen a question.

Cathleen McCarthy's stories at CreditCards.com

Q&A with security expert Slava Gomzin on the safest way to pay -- What's being done to protect cardholders at checkout -- and what can we do in the meantime to protect ourselves? We asked Slava Gomzin, security and payments technologist at Hewlett-Packard and author of "Hacking Point of Sale" ... (See Slava Gomzin)

Rewards programs move toward flexible, immediate spending -- As frequent flier and hotel rewards programs get devalued, credit card issuers are offering new ways to redeem your points, from taxi rides to paying your mortgage ... (See Flexible rewards)

Use a different card, but keep priority boarding privilege -- You have to request cardholder status when your boarding pass is issued in order to qualify for priority boarding privileges ... (See Boarding)

Defaulting on card may cost you your AmEx points -- If you have more than just a missed payment or two, American Express gives itself the right to cancel your account “for any reason.” If it cancels your account, you forfeit all of your points ... (See AmEx points)

Credit card perks can save you cash this Christmas -- From special rewards rates to price protection programs, a number of credit card perks can smooth your holiday shopping ... (See Holiday perks)

Earning rewards for telecom purchases -- AT&T offers two rewards cards that earn savings on your phone or Internet bill. But other rewards cards may offer a better deal ... (See Telecom rewards)

Cheap ways to renew soon-to-expire BA Avios points -- If you're not flying with British Airways anytime soon, you can still avoid losing your miles with the help of one of your rewards credit cards ... (See Renew points)

Best ways to redeem rewards points over the holidays -- Credit card rewards you've been earning all year can help defray the costs of the holidays. But be sure to consider the best strategy before cashing in ... (See Holiday rewards strategies)

Mobile apps help track business credit card receipts -- A handful of receipt-tracking apps now offer new ways to track business expenses, allowing you to capture receipts and file them on the fly ... (See Receipts)

Do chip-and-PIN cards work in the US? -- A chip card issued in the U.S. will work here because point-of-sale terminals will read the mag stripe and ignore the embedded microchip. The same is true of cards issued overseas -- unless the issuer ignores the mag stripe, which is happening more often ... (See EMV in USA)

How do I redeem miles on alliance partner airlines? -- In most cases, you can book your flight in the same way you would a flight on the airline that holds your award miles. There may be some exceptions, though ... (See Miles)

Can you claim frequent flier miles after death of a parent? -- Airline policies on the transfer of miles after a death are often restrictive, but it's always worth calling and asking. You've got the best chance if the deceased left the miles to you in a will ... (See Miles)

Do I need a chip card in Africa? -- It's a good idea to bring a chip card if you're traveling to Africa, especially if you plan to travel between regions. Adoption rate of EMV technology throughout Africa was 77 percent by the end of 2012 and continues to expand ... (See Chip card)

Which credit cards are best for expedited airport security screening? -- If you travel internationally a lot, you might consider one of the premium credit cards that offer to refund your application fee for Global Entry, the U.S. Customs program allowing expedited entry into the U.S. ... (See Global Entry)

4 free, underused card perks -- Free upgrades, refunds, companion tickets and museum admissions are just some of the card perks you may be missing out on ... (See Credit card perks)

Is an award flight taken for business tax-deductible? -- A flight taken for business purposes is covered under Section 162 of the IRS Code. But nowhere does it say that if you use frequent flier miles to pay for the flight you can deduct the expense -- which means you can't ... (See IRS)

What’s the best rewards card for parents with kids in school? -- If you have kids away at college you'll need a rewards card that can help pay for travel -- and everyday expenses. Several fit that bill, but you may have to pay an annual fee ... (See Parents)

Can I churn my Hilton credit cards for more sign-up bonuses? -- American Express and Citi credit cards that earn Hilton HHonors points are churnable -- meaning you can cancel them and later reapply to get a new sign-up bonus. But you need to know a few things first ... (See Churning)

What's the better hotel credit card -- Hyatt or Marriott? -- Choosing the best hotel card is a matter of weighing each card's perks against your travel needs, as evaluating the pros and cons of each is an apples-to-oranges comparison ... (See Hotel cards)

The best card for a long stay in Vietnam? -- A rewards card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees and is widely accepted is the best bet for a three-month trip to Vietnam. Prepaid travel cards are an option, too ... (See Vietnam)

Booking via travel website may affect reward miles, perks -- If you use a co-branded card to buy tickets through a third-party aggregator such as Travelocity or Orbitz, you may give up bonus miles offered for booking direct. But with a little work, you should be able to claim most of the perks ... (See Online agents)

How do I get rid of my dormant AmEx Green card without hurting my score? -- If you drop an inactive credit card to save on annual fees, should you ask for a credit limit increase on other cards to mitigate damage to your credit score? ... (See Rewards shuffle)

Groceries bought at Wal-Mart, Costco don't earn extra rewards -- Generally, processors do not count big-box stores (Target and Wal-Mart) or warehouse clubs (Costco) as grocery stores. If you do the bulk of your stocking up with those retailers, you'd be better off with a rewards card co-branded with one of them ... (See Rewards)

Have job, will travel, need points: Best bets for hotel rewards cards -- Marriott Rewards consistently wins travelers' awards for best hotel rewards in the Americas, but there are other cards to also consider if you'll be traveling a lot for business ... (See Hotel rewards)

What are the best debit cards for ATM withdrawals overseas? -- ATM fees overseas may come from the bank issuing the card, from the ATM itself, or from card networks like Visa and MasterCard. A few debit cards rise to the top when it comes to keeping these fees in check ... (See ATM fees)

U.S. rolling out chip card technology, ever so slowly -- Rely on your American magnetic-stripe cards for international travel and you could run into problems. Many other countries now use on more secure chip technology. But the U.S. is moving in that direction ... (See EMV card update)

When bankruptcy freezes an airline credit card, what happens to the miles? -- If a rewards card is frozen during bankruptcy, you may still have access to most of the points you've earned. It depends on whether the card is co-branded with a travel partner ... (See Salvaging miles)

Credit card churning: not a game to play while house-hunting -- "Churning" -- taking on new credit cards to get sign-up bonuses and then canceling the cards -- will ding your credit score. The hit is usually minor but it's not a smart idea if you're thinking of buying a house soon ... (See Card churning caution)

New card options let travelers avoid foreign transaction fees -- Most U.S. credit card issuers tack a fee of up to 3 percent onto purchases made overseas. Those fees can really add up but there are some new ways to avoid them ... (See Fee-free cards)

How to earn more travel rewards without getting a new card -- The fastest way to rack up credit card rewards is through sign-up bonuses. If you don't want a new card, there are still ways to boost your earning potential ... (See Maximize rewards)

If my oldest card's rewards aren't paying off, should I cancel? -- It's usually not worth shelling out for an annual fee if a card's rewards don't at least pay for it. But if that card happens to be your oldest one, will canceling the card hurt your credit score? ... (See Oldest card)

What’s the best low-hassle cash-back card? -- If you travel a lot by car, airline reward cards won't do you much good. You'll be better off with cash-back cards that offer rewards in driver-friendly categories ... (See Cash back)

Can I get more rewards by using my hotel's app? -- Hotel chains are creating smartphone apps that allow you to reserve rooms, find info and maybe even earn triple points -- all on the go ... (See Hotel apps)

How can I upgrade to a chip card before a trip to Europe? -- Customer service tells a traveler he won't need a smart-chip card in Europe. But many kiosks won't accept cards without them. There are a couple of avenues left to pursue to get an upgrade without having to apply for a whole new card ... (See Chip-and-PIN cards)

Are miles earned on my employer's credit mine, and are they taxable? -- A frequent flier wonders if miles earned on her organization's card are hers. And if so, how does the IRS treat them? ... (See Who owns company miles?)

AirTran, Hilton HHonors cards change; how it affects you -- An airline merger and reshuffle of Hilton's loyalty program bring changes for frequent travelers. If you have credit cards that earn rewards for those programs, here's what to expect ... (See AirTran, Hilton changes)

Canceling card, reapplying won't earn multiple sign-up bonuses -- Canceled your credit card and reapplied, hoping for a second sign-up bonus? You may be out of luck. It's not so easy to churn cards for rewards anymore ... (See Bonus churning)

Without my American Airlines credit card, how do I keep my miles from expiring? -- Most airlines require you to use (or lose) your miles now and then. But you don't have to take a flight to keep them from expiring ... (See Keeping miles active)

Is there any easy way to track points and miles? -- Third-party websites and apps are the way to go if you're looking to manage multiple rewards programs more easily. AwardWallet is one of the best tools around -- but it has a major limitation ... (See Wrangling points)

How will the airline merger affect my US Airways miles? -- It's too early to know exactly how the merger will play out. But there are a number of changes you can anticipate and steps you can take to maximize your mileage ... (See Mileage lift)

Best reward cards to win top priority for early boarding -- Most airline rewards cards list 'priority boarding' as a perk, but that may not mean what you think. You'll get aboard before the hordes, but after premium seat holders and elite cardholders ... (See Priority boarding)

Watch out for fuel surcharges on reward flights -- Beware those hefty fuel surcharges, added by nearly all European and Asian airlines. You can't pay for them with points, which devalues bonus point offers ... (See Fuel surcharges)

Travel rewards vs. cash back pits aspirations against practicality -- Cash-back rewards can be used to pay down debts, buy plane tickets, or any number of other things. But there is an aspirational value to travel rewards ... (See Choosing rewards)

How to boost rewards for Valentine's Day gifts -- If you play your credit cards right, you can score points from your honey and for yourself by using a rewards card running a Valentine's Day promotion ... (See Sweetheart deals)

How to get elite status at hotels quicker -- This is an excellent time to get into a hotel loyalty program with a rewards credit card: Their seasonal promotions can help you achieve 'elite' status faster ... (See Elite status)

Multiply reward points with prepaid and reload cards -- Rewards junkies' newest strategy multiplies points and miles fast using prepaid and reload cards. It's a bit like getting rewards for a cash advance, then using the advance to pay large bills like rent fee-free ... (See Multiply rewards)

American Airlines cardholders lose elite boarding perk, gain opportunity to pay for others -- Citi AAdvantage cardholders will no longer get to board American Airlines flights with elite passengers, but they're still at the front of the Economy queue ... (See AAdvantage rewards)

Best card for small business gas rewards -- For small businesses that guzzle gas, it pays to look for the right credit card. The best rewards come from programs that aren't tied to one gas station. ... (See Best gas rewards)

Airline exclusions - aka No, you can't earn rewards on a free rewards flight -- Airlines' exclusions policies limit where you can use frequent flier miles, and that prevents you from earning extra miles while using your free ones ... (See Exclusions)

Exchanging rewards points for miles is rarely a good deal -- Trading points for miles may get you a free trip faster. However, there are usually significant trade-offs -- unless you can find the right promotion for your points ... (See Swapping points for miles)

Best ways to 'top off' your frequent flier miles, earn enough points to fly free -- Want to head home for the holidays but short a few points for a free flight? Here's how to top off your frequent flier account with enough air miles to go ... (See Top off )

Basic frequent flier perks shrinking as airlines push top-tier programs -- Airlines are now more interested in luring us to second-level elite status (50,000 EQMs), so they're taking some goodies away from base-level elite members ... (See Frequent flier perks)

Cheap ways to keep frequent flier miles active -- Spending a $1.29 per song at the iTunes store is one cheap way to keep your miles active. There are plenty of others ... (See Keeping miles active)

Generic miles card vs. airline-specific rewards: Know when to use each -- Either a generic rewards card or an airline specific card could be best, depending on your schedule, the flight and its cost ... (See Airline rewards)

Travel insurance on credit cards -- The flight you purchased with your airline card gets delayed: will the company cover the costs created by travel hiccups? ... (See Credit card trip insurance)

Ooh, leftover business air miles. Can I use them? -- A CFO with a company credit card finds that his predecessor left a bunch of unused accrued rewards. Can the new guy eat the leftovers? ... (See Leftover rewards miles)

Best ways to find good deals on frequent flier flights -- What's your best bet for arranging reward travel? Skip the travel agent and go searching yourself ... (See Frequent flier)

Chip cards necessary for charging overseas? -- With magnetic-stripe credit cards being phased out in Europe, how necessary is it for Americans to get the new chip-and-PIN variety while traveling? ... (See Chip cards overseas?)

Bequeathing frequent flier miles in your will - Cathleen McCarthy -- When your time is up, you can't take your frequent flier miles with you, but you may be able to bequeath them to friends and relations ... (See Bequeath your miles)

Redeem reward miles for in-flight meals and entertainment? McCarthy -- Some travelers would rather fly more comfortably than more often. Can they use accumulated miles for in-flight expenses such as food, movies and drinks? ... (See Miles as in-flight cash)

Getting the card with the most travel perks for employees - McCarthy -- Reward your employees with a small business credit card that rewards them with quality travel perks ... (See Card perks for employees)

Airlines launch slew of elite-level perks for frequent fliers -- Low-cost airlines make a play for frequent fliers with new incentives typically reserved for elite-status, while the majors focus on keeping their elites loyal ... (See New frequent flier perks)

Credit card rewards that don't require points or miles -- The talk of credit card rewards is all miles and points, but what other perks exist to entice you to one card over another? ... (See Credit card perks)

Occasional traveler? Hoard your credit card rewards for international flight -- If you take just a handful of flights a year, it could take years to get enough frequent flier miles to redeem for a domestic flight, so consider holding out for international travel ... (See International flight reward)

Why don't miles show up on my credit card statement? Cathleen McCarthy -- Purchases made with an airline credit card can get you reward miles, often at one mile per dollar spent, but why can't you see an up-to-date tally on your credit card bill? ... (See Where are my air miles?)

Use Worldpoints to buy Walmart gift cards? Cathleen McCarthy -- One reader wants to use her card's points on Walmart gift cards, but depending on the point total, cash back may be the way to go. ... (See Worldpoints redemption)

Airlines charging family-unfriendly fee for aisle, window seats - Cathleen McCarthy -- If you want to fly next to your young children, get ready to be zapped by airlines with fees for window and aisle seats ... (See Airline seat fees)

Can transferring miles between two cards get you more miles? Cathleen McCarthy -- Some credit card companies allow you to transfer accrued airline miles from one of their cards to another for bonus miles. Does yours? ... (See Transferring flier miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: The battle of generic versus frequent flier miles -- A primer on how both generic credit cards and airline-specific cards offer and redeem travel miles -- and which is best for you. ... (See Generic vs. frequent flier miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: Wide body traveler seeks credit card for first-class seat -- A horizontally blessed traveler wonders which frequent flier credit card would give him the best deal on upgrading to the larger, first-class seats ... (See Frequent flier miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: Trading in unused credit card rewards -- Scout around before you cancel a rewards credit card that doesn't suit you now. Your deal may get sweeter and third-party websites offer another option ... (See Unused credit card rewards)

Turning miles into cash gains favor -- After years of talking about it, the credit card loyalty program industry is poised to launch several programs where rewards points can be converted into cash ... (See Cash for miles, points)

Keep things simple with a cash back credit card -- Want an uncomplicated, easy-to-use rewards card? Instead of killing yourself keeping track of rotating rewards programs, try a simple cash-back card ... (See Cash-back credit cards)

Cathleen McCarthy: How to get points for small town hotel stays -- If your job takes you to small-town America, you can still find a rewards credit card that gives you big points for frequent motel stays ... (See Earning small-town hotel rewards)

Cathleen McCarthy: Is trading credit card reward points for product a good deal? -- Keeping up with rotating rewards points programs takes time and energy, so is buying stuff with your points instead a better option? ... (See Cashing in rewards points)

Credit score impact of pumping and dumping rewards cards -- Applying for big bonus rewards cards, racking up points and then canceling the card requires a credit score and a lot of discipline ... (See Rewards credit cards)

Cathleen McCarthy: Is airport lounge access a true credit card perk? -- A newbie business traveler questions the value of airport lounge access if she decides to apply for a new frequent flier credit card ... (See Airport lounges)

Cathleen McCarthy: Transfer miles or buy outright to gift flights? -- Want to present a special someone with the gift of free airfare? What a sweet idea -- but watch out for those fees! Find out the best ways to cash in your extra miles before you act ... (See The gift of flight)

Rewards points auctions offer chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences -- Whether it's attending the Super Bowl or the Oscars, hanging out with celebrities, or enjoying an all-expenses-paid vacation at a luxury resort, you can probably find someone auctioning it off for reward points. Here's how they work ... (See Rewards points auctions)

Cathleen McCarthy: Do you lose rewards on returned purchases? -- You racked up a boatload of points on that new TV, but now you're having second thoughts? Be prepared for bad news ... (See Points and returned purchases)

Cathleen McCarthy: Want a rewards card with an annual fee? Run the numbers first -- If you're wondering whether it's a good move to pay the annual fee with that new rewards credit card, a little bit of math can help clear things up ... (See Annual fee)

Cathleen McCarthy: Which rewards card is the best for travel upgrades? -- Looking to pay for travel upgrades with rewards points? We'll lay out some of your best options ... (See Rewards upgrades)

Cathleen McCarthy: How to steer clear of frequent flier blackout dates -- Blackout dates drive many frequent fliers mad, and they can vary between airlines. These tips will help you navigate around these restrictions and fly away ... (See Rewards blackout dates)

How to donate unused rewards miles, points -- Are your miles about to expire? Don't rush out and spend them on something you don't need just to get rid of them. Donate them to charity instead -- you get the same result, minus the useless merchandise cluttering your house ... (See Donate rewards miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: How to maximize the value of your rewards card -- Can't decide on which rewards card to get? The most important thing to do, our expert says, is make sure the card is a good match for your spending habits ... (See Maximizing card rewards)

Cathleen McCarthy: What to consider before canceling your airline miles card -- Before you cancel your airlines miles credit card in a frustrated huff, stop, take a deep breath, and consider the impact on your credit ... (See Canceling rewards cards)

Cathleen McCarthy: Want elite miles from your card? Be sure to shop around -- Most credit cards won't help you get elite status with an airline, but there are some that do. Our expert helps a reader in search of the card that's best for him ... (See Credit card elite miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: If you close a card, you often lose your points immediately -- Closing a credit card? In most cases, you should you use up all your points or miles before you close the card. Otherwise, your hard-earned rewards will vanish before you can enjoy them ... (See Canceling rewards cards)

Cathleen McCarthy: Airlines offer better elite frequent flier deals -- Airlines may have made it easier for people get miles without ever setting foot in an airport. However, those who earned the miles the old-fashioned way get special perks ... (See Elite frequent flier status)

Cathleen McCarthy: Rewards card holders' biggest mistake? Not using their miles -- Sure, rewards programs can be complex and confusing. However, the biggest mistake rewards cardholders make is one that's amazingly simple ... (See Rewards mistakes)

Cathleen McCarthy: 5 easy ways to get more credit card rewards points or miles -- Issuers offer countless ways for miles-hungry customers to get their fix. Here are some of the easiest methods for getting all the miles or points you desire ... (See Get more miles)

Great American financial failures: From Jefferson to Disney -- It’s easy to scoff at millionaire celebrities who declare bankruptcy, but overextended credit is a time-honored American tradition. Some of our greatest heroes have fallen victim to bad investments and living beyond their means. ... (See Great American financial failures)

Cathleen McCarthy Q&A: Short a few air miles? Negotiating won't work, but there are options -- Our expert says don't expect to talk your way into paying 25,000 miles for a 35,000-mile seat. However, if you're flexible and willing to do some homework, you should be able to find a deal ... (See Negotiating frequent flier miles)

Consider your credit when pursuing card sign-up bonuses -- Rewards card sign-up bonuses are a great way to build up more and more miles. However, if you overdo it, it can hurt your credit. Our expert tells how ... (See Sign-up bonuses)

Cathleen McCarthy: Sharing or selling airline miles can be risky, pricey -- Giving your miles away may be noble, and selling your miles may sound wise, but it's important to know that neither move is free of risk and cost. Our expert lays out the details ... (See Selling, sharing frequent flier miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: Frequent flier? Opt for airline card over cash back -- Our expert says that if you fly regularly, you're better off with a miles card than with cash back -- especially if you're loyal to one airline ... (See Miles or cash back?)

Cathleen McCarthy: Bankruptcy and frequent flier air miles - are they an asset, or protected? -- With 300,000 miles and $60,000 in debt, a reader fears his air miles might be seized if he files for bankruptcy. Our expert says his concerns are justified ... (See Bankruptcy and frequent flier miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: Too sick to use ticket bought with frequent flier miles? You have options -- If an illness is likely to keep you from using your award ticket, don't panic. Our expert lays out what you can do to ensure you don't lose those miles ... (See Canceling award tickets)

Cathleen McCarthy: How do generic miles stack up against airline rewards? -- Our expert breaks down the differences between airline-specific miles and generic miles rewards, from how they're earned to how they're redeemed and beyond ... (See Generic miles vs. airline miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: Cashing in miles? Make sure it's worth it -- Be sure you're getting the most bang for your frequent flier miles when you redeem them. Our expert shows you how to do the math ... (See Cashing in flier miles)

Want to be elite? Know that all miles aren't created equal -- Miles earned by spending on an airline credit card can get you free flights and more, but they likely won't get you elite status with the airline ... (See Elite qualifying miles)

How high is too high for a rewards card's annual fee? -- When determining whether a rewards card's annual fee is too high, the most important thing is to know thyself -- or rather, thine travel habits ... (See Compare rewards cards' annual fees)

Cathleen McCarthy: Late credit card payments may cost you rewards points -- If you're late paying your credit card bill, you may end up losing some rewards points. But the good news is that they likely won't be gone forever ... (See Lost rewards points)

Cathleen McCarthy: Beware of opening, closing cards quickly to get rewards points -- Signing up for a bunch of new credit cards and getting all the sign-up bonus points may sound like a fast, easy way to a free flight. Your credit may pay a price, though ... (See Rewards points)

Cathleen McCarthy: Cash back or miles? Ask yourself these 6 questions first -- Cash back or miles? Cash is more straightforward and the better deal for most people. But if you travel frequently, miles can give you more bang for your spend ... (See Cash back or miles?)

9 unusual credit card rewards and perks -- If you take the time to peruse the merchandise and reward packages your points can buy, you may be surprised at the bounty you've been missing out on -- from kitschy to luxurious to downright bizarre ... (See Crazy rewards)

QA with Lisa Desjardins, author of 'Zombie Economics' -- If your financial situation feels like a horror movie, you'll appreciate the narrative thread behind "Zombie Economics: A Guide to Personal Finance." CNN reporter Lisa Desjardins talks about the new book she co-authored. ... (See Zombie economics)

QA with bankruptcy lawyer Ted Connolly, author of 'Road Out of Debt' -- Just how bad should debt be before bankruptcy makes sense? What can you do to avoid it? We asked finance and bankruptcy attorney Theodore W. Connolly, author of "The Road Out of Debt: Bankruptcy and Other Solutions to Your Financial Problems." ... (See "Road Out Of Debt")

How to solve credit card problems through Twitter -- Why wait on endless hold to dispute a credit card fee over the phone when can post your complaint on Twitter and often resolve the problem more quickly and with fewer hassles? ... (See Twitter customer service)

Your credit card can make you elite -- Achieving elite status on a frequent flier program may be easier than you think -- especially if you have the right credit card ... (See Frequent flier)

Buyers' guide to gift cards: 5 questions to ask before buying -- Want to save money on gift card purchases? Ask yourself some key question and do a bit of homework; your extra effort can mean cash left over in your pocket. ... (See Guide)

Think twice before rolling credit card debt into mortgage refinancing -- People with equity in their homes can still borrow against it to settle debts. With mortgage rates at historic lows, consolidating credit card debt in a refinance can substantially lower monthly expenses. Yet many financial experts advise against it. ... (See Refi)

6 ways to maximize hotel rewards -- Hotel reward points can help you get more vacation for your buck this year, especially if you take advantage of loyalty program incentives and partnerships between credit card companies, hotels, airlines and retailers. Here are a few tips. ... (See Hotel )


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