Am I Burned Out?

Say It Isn’t So!

It’s a funny thought.  When you have the world at your disposal and enough miles and points to go absolutely anywhere you want, the desire to do so starts to fade away.  I think it’s an ugly truth that most miles and points bloggers would never admit to.  But here I am.  Admitting it.

I have traveled a lot this year.  And I mean, A LOT (for me). All thanks to miles and points!  Look at my year so far:

  • 3 weeks in Thailand
  • 10 days in California
  • 1 week in Europe
  • a weekend drive to West Virginia

It’s only July and I’m still not done!  Coming up, I still have a wedding in Baltimore in early August and a week at Beaches Turks and Caicos in October.  And then, I will be done with 2014 travel.

Maybe to some of you, that’s not much at all.  But it’s all individual perspective.  To me, it’s been a busy year and I am actually looking forward to a bit of downtime.

But it’s time to think about next year! The booking windows for summer travel are about to open.  And I have Absolutely No Clue where I want to take my family next summer.  Nothing sounds appealing to me.

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I am planning a trip to Disney World in Florida for Spring Break next year.  I have tentatively booked a condo through my father-in-law’s timeshare.  Parker and I are going with his friend Nick and Nick’s mom Monika.  I am hesitant to use points for things I am sharing with someone else.  Maybe I’m stingy, but I feel it is a better value to use them for my family traveling alone.  When I travel with someone else, costs are split so the points have less value.

I’m also thinking about a quick weekend trip up to Snowshoe Mountain Resort in early March.

But that’s it for next year!

No, wait.  My friends and I were thinking about going to Romania next fall and checking out Dracula’s Castle.  But that’s it! That’s all for 2015.

I have to watch my money next year because I went way over budget on travel this year.  Remember – free travel is not completely free.  There’s still food and activities.  And we like expensive activities like scuba diving and snow skiing. I’m planning a post about travel budgeting and how I do it.  Add that to my list of things to do….

Back to Summer 2015

So that brings me back to summer 2015 and where to go.  I honestly have no clue.  I could think of places *I* would like to go, but they are not places that a 7 year old would likely appreciate.  For example, I would enjoy touring around England, Scotland and Ireland for a couple weeks.  Last year I got into the whole genealogy thing and traced my ancestors back to England and Scotland.  I would love to visit the towns where they lived.

I would also enjoy going to France.  Paris is my favorite city in the world and I would like to explore more of France as well.

I have also tossed around Croatia, Italy, Greece and Portugal.

I asked Parker where he would like to go for summer vacation next year and he answered exactly as I expected him to.  California.  He has gone to California every year since he was born. In fact, it would feel weird to NOT go to California next year.  But I want to go some place Different.  But let’s not rule out California completely.  I could plan a trip out west to coincide with Comic Con in San Diego.  (an event that has always been on my Geek Bucket List)

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Parker’s first trip to California at 4 months old!

Decision Time

I need to make a decision soon or I will just be out of luck with no award seats.  There is a part of me that wants to stay stateside next year.  I’m sure Parker would love to go to the Grand Canyon and see some of the National Parks out west.  (side trip to California included, of course) Sometimes I feel like a domestic trip is not really traveling.  It’s not exotic enough. That is completely ridiculous.  Of course I know that.  The United States is a beautiful country with so many different things to see and do.  I briefly tossed about the idea of going to Hawaii.  But, In My Opinion, it’s way too far and if we want tropical beaches, we are just as happy in the Caribbean.

Help me out.  Inspire me.  What are your travel plans for 2015?  Have you booked them yet? Maybe there is some fabulous place I just haven’t thought of yet.  Tell me in the comments…..

 

Paranormal Road Trip 2014

And a scary trip to Walmart

I stopped in a different Walmart this afternoon.  I don’t usually go to this one because it’s on the other side of town from where I live, but I happened to be passing by so I stopped in for a “Birthday Candle” gift card.

I bought some school supplies for my son, which had to be rung up separately.  There was some problem with the machine accepting my Citi Executive card with a chip.  The whole thing shut down and had to be rebooted by a Customer Service Manager. After we finally got the charge to go through, the CSM said “Let’s ring your gift card up at another register”. I have gotten over most of my guilt/fear over buying VISA gift cards, but still….following her to another register felt like being taken to the principal’s office.  I have no idea why.

Anyway, she rang up the card for $500 and I once again inserted my Citi Executive card.  The screen said “Please wait” and then she said “Cash or debit only.”  My stomach flipped, but I Completely ignored her because right at that moment the screen said “Authorizing.  Please wait”.  I still said absolutely nothing to her.  Finally it came up with a signature line and the transaction was completed.

Yikes.  I’m not sure why she said that.  Maybe it’s something they have been told?  But the registers don’t seem to have gotten the memo.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again….we have to keep riding this gravy train until it derails.  Do as much as you (comfortably) can now, because it could all end tomorrow.

Personally I will probably cut way back on the MS after I reach the spend for this 3rd Citi Executive card.  Other cards with smaller minimum spends I can reach without the hassle.  I doubt I will apply for another one with a $10K minimum spend.  At least, not for awhile.

And now, the road trip

In my Million Mile Secrets interview, I mentioned that I am the co-founder of a paranormal group called Gatekeeper Paranormal and that from time to time I may do some “paranormal trip reports”.  Well….here is the first one.

Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, or TALA for short, is located in Weston, WV, about 5 hours from my home. And 5 hours is about my limit for road trips.  Any longer than that and I start to get cranky.

We broke the outbound trip in half with a stop in Pt. Pleasant WV, home of The Mothman.

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If you are not familiar with The Mothman, he is a legendary moth-like creature spotted several times in the Pt. Pleasant area in 1966 & 1967.  A book about these sightings was written in 1975 called “The Mothman Prophecies”.  In 2002, that book was turned into a Hollywood film starring Richard Gere.

The Mothman is also regarded as a harbinger of doom.  On December 15, 1967, one month after the first sighting of the Mothman, the Silver Bridge (connecting Pt Pleasant WV and Kanauga, OH) collapsed during rush hour, killing 46 people.

The Mothman has turned the sleepy little town of Pt. Pleasant into somewhat of a tourist attraction.  There is a Mothman Museum and a statue of the Mothman in the center of town.

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The Mothman Museum consists mostly of memorabilia from the movie with some old letters and newspaper clippings from the first sightings of the Mothman.  They also dedicate space to the story of the collapse of the Silver Bridge.

For $3 and about 30 minutes of your time, the Mothman Museum is nice break to walk around and stretch your legs.

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After saying hi to the Mothman, we drove about 15 minutes out of town to the “TNT Area”.  The TNT area is where 2 couples who were parked out there, reported seeing the Mothman in November 1966.  It is called the TNT area because during WWII, the area was used as storage by an ammunition manufacturing facility.  Scattered over 8,000 acres were many igloo-looking bunkers, disguised by a thick layer of earth.  After the war, the area was abandoned and is now a Wildlife Management Area.

So what are 3 girls to do in the middle of nowhere West Virginia?  Wander around in the woods looking for old ammunition bunkers of course!  Probably not the safest thing to do, but it was fun and we were so excited when we found our first bunker.

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Would you go inside?

They are really cool.  And produce a wicked echo inside.

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In 2010 one of the igloos (which contained 20,000 pounds of unstable material) suddenly exploded.  I’m not sure if they have all been cleared out now, but I did read recently that the area is on the EPA List of Priorites for hazardous waste clean-up!

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We escaped the TNT area in one piece and with no Mothman sightings, and continued on the winding roads another 2.5 hours to Weston, WV.

We checked into the Holiday Inn Express & Suites.  What can I say?  It is a Holiday Inn.  It appears new and was very clean and modern looking.  We had a large room with 2 queen beds and a sofa bed.  There was also a small wet bar with a refrigerator.  They offered a nice, hot breakfast in the morning.  Scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage gravy and biscuits and very tasty, warm cinnamon rolls.

Since I was splitting the cost with friends, I paid for the room rather than redeeming points.  I earned 500 points as a Platinum Welcome Gift,  5x points on my IHG Mastercard (675 points) plus the 10 IHG points per dollar spent on the room (1380) plus 50% Platinum Elite bonus (690).  So in total I earned 3,245 points!  Not bad, considering my share of the room was only $36.

The Asylum

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Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was formerly known as the Weston State Hospital and housed the mentally ill from the mid-1800s until it’s closure in 1994.  The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990, but had severely deteriorated.  It was privately purchased in 2007 and the name changed to Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. The goal of the current owners is to restore TALA to its original grandeur and preserve an important piece of American history.  Even if you are not interested in the paranormal, the historic tours offered during the day are fascinating.  Money raised from the historic and paranormal tours goes toward restoration of the building.

I can tell you, they have done a great job on the areas restored thus far.  Their goal is to restore each floor with the decor of a certain era.  The first floor admissions and common area has been restored in 1920s style, complete with antique furniture and accessories.

As far as the paranormal aspect, we had a few personal experiences and captured some interesting EVPs.  Once we get them all analyzed, I will post them on our group page, Gatekeeper Paranormal.

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One of the unrestored wards. This picture was taken in complete darkness with an iPhone.

The Drive Home

The drive home is never fun, so we tried to make it more interesting.  During our investigation of TALA, we found out about Flinderation Tunnel.  It took us about an hour out of our way, but who’s counting?  Flinderation Tunnel is part of the 72 mile North Bend Trail operated by West Virginia State Parks.

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All sorts of urban legends and ghost stories surround the tunnel.  Everything from train wrecks, KKK murders and multiple ghost sightings.  Even a ghost train!  There is a cemetery located on top of the tunnel, but one member of the group wasn’t dressed to go hiking up hills and the ParaVan couldn’t make it up the gravel road/hill to drive up there, so we’ll save that for next time.

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I just love this picture! Is that the ghost train coming at me?

The tunnel itself was perfectly creepy.  The sounds of rocks crunching under your feet and water dripping from the walls combine to form the perfect audio matrixing of voices and the sensation of someone following you through the tunnel.

You can’t drive through West Virginia without stopping at a roadside restaurant called Hillbilly Hotdogs!  This is the craziest place I have ever seen.  They have a huge collection of junk and the property looks like a place you’ve seen on “Hoarders”.

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They serve a variety of hotdogs, including one called “The Homewrecker” that is 15 inches long and covered with chili, onions, bacon, cheese and about 10 other ingredients.  Nobody in our group was brave enough to try it.  I played it safe and got the “Buckeye Dog” (a chili dog)…what else would I get? Their french fries are those delicious, crispy crinkle fries loaded with just the right amount of salt.  You can also get them covered with garlic, bacon and cheese.

West Virginia is a beautiful state and I look forward to returning.  In fact, one of my favorite ski destinations is Snowshoe Mountain Resort.

Thank you for indulging the paranormal geek in me.  I will soon return to my regularly scheduled programming of miles and points and family travel.

Happy Travels!

 

American Express Serve

I have been reading a lot about Serve by American Express – especially the part about directly loading it online with a credit card. You are limited to loading $1,000 per month ($200 per day) unless you link your Serve card to Isis.  (which I am not doing)

I opened the account in my husband’s name because you cannot have a Bluebird account AND a Serve account at the same time.  Since I like the convenience of being able to write Bluebird checks to people and businesses that I cannot pay electronically, I am still a BB girl.

I did a $200 test load with Matthew’s new Citi AAdvantage Executive card.  I kept my fingers crossed that it would work because I am still trying to bang out that $10k spend!

It loaded with no problem and I waited a couple days and made some payments.

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But the real test was whether the charge posted as a regular charge or a cash advance.  Citi is notorious for posting such things as cash advances.  You cannot buy American Express Gift Cards directly from American Express with a Citi card or they will post as cash advances.  Anything posting as a cash advance will not count toward your minimum spending requirement and you’ll have to pay fees and interest!

Knowing that, I was not sure how this $200 charge to Serve would post.  I was not able to log onto our Citi account online, so I had to call.  (the horror)  I did not want to  come right out and ask about the Serve charge specifically, so I just asked the agent to go over the recent charges to my account.  He read through the list that included “$200 to American Express Serve”, wedged between “$20 to Soft Touch Car Wash” and “$7.30 to The Noodle Company”.  Good news! I made a point of asking about a couple pending charges that I knew were coming up, just to keep the call as innocent as possible.  I also did NOT ask for my cash advance limit to be lowered to $1, as so many people do.  I just think that is rather suspicious and I like to keep my activities as benign as possible.

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As long as I am able to continue to load Serve directly with a credit card, I think I will keep it for a while.  I don’t think it will completely replace Bluebird for me, but it will be a nice companion and an additional way to meet Minimum Spending Requirements.  Serve does charge a $1 fee per month unless you set up a Direct Deposit or load $500 during your monthly statement period.  I don’t think loading the $500 will be an issue. Apparently you can also withdraw cash with no fee from MoneyPass ATMs.  Apparently the US Bank at my local Kroger store has a Money Pass ATM.  Next time I am there, I will have to try to withdraw some cash and verify that it works.

Does anyone else have any experience using Serve?  As a Serve “newbie” I would love to hear your opinion!

Happy Travels!

 

Trip Report: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand Trip Reports

We Made It!

Monday March 24, 2014

We arrived in Chiang Mai around 8am and easily made our way to Le Meridien Chiang Mai in a taxi.  Parker had slept most of the flight and was still fighting whatever stomach bug he brought with him from home.

I was immediately impressed with the friendliness of the hotel employees and Thai people in general.  They noticed my husband carrying Parker and asked if he was tired from the trip.  I told them no, he was actually quite sick.  IMG_0196They told me they would have a room ready for me as soon as possible and to wait in the lobby.  I think we waited about 30 minutes before someone came and told me our room was ready.

We don’t have any status with SPG, so we were just given a basic room.  But it only cost me about $80 for 2 nights, so that was just fine with me.   The hotel was beautiful and in a great location, so we really couldn’t ask for more.  In the “Pre Child Days”, my husband and I stayed in many guesthouses and hostels with shared baths, so staying in such a “fancy” hotel was a great treat for us.  One of the benefits of having a child and traveling:  not wanting to subject them to the uncleanliness and potential dangers of true “Budget Travel”.

Since Parker was sick and we were absolutely exhausted from flying in coach all the way across the world, I abandoned my Chiang Mai itinerary and original plan of hiking up to Doi Suthep Temple immediately after our arrival.  Instead, we went to the room for much needed showers and more sleeping for Parker.

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I thought this was all we would ever see of Chiang Mai.

We had a big day planned for Tuesday – elephants! So I wanted Parker to get as much rest as possible.  In between naps, Matthew and I took turns exploring the hotel and surrounding areas.  The infinity pool was very nice, but it was a very hot and hazy day, so the view was not that great.

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The view from the pool

While on my walkabout, I noticed a McDonald’s across the street from the hotel.  Parker had not eaten anything in well over 24 hours and he will usually always eat McDonald’s.  So when dinner time approached, I told him about the McD’s and he actually got excited about it and said he wanted to go.  However, once the food was placed on the table in front of him, he said he didn’t want any.  I feel terrible about this now, but I thought he needed to eat so I pretty much forced him to take a few bites.  My mistake.  He threw up all over the table and floor.  Of course I was mortified, but the Thai employees and even other patrons rushed to his rescue (from mean Mommy).  Everything was cleaned up and he was given much love and pats on the head from just about everyone in the restaurant. Poor little yellow-haired Farang baby.

After that drama, we decided the best thing was a nice bath and more rest.  So back to the hotel we went.

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Enjoying a warm bath. What’s with the windows? No privacy in most Thai hotels.

Tuesday March 25, 2014

Today was our whole reason for coming to Chiang Mai.  Patara Elephant Farm.  Parker had been looking forward to this for months.  It was all he talked about.  But on this morning? The first thing he said was “I don’t wanna go”.  Yikes.  We were being picked up at the hotel at 7:30am, which left very little time to talk him into it.  We were leaving Chiang Mai the next evening.  I could not reschedule this.  So once again, I forced a sick child to do something against his will.  Before the nasty comments come in, I honestly did not realize how sick he was.  I thought it could possibly just be jet lag.  He was not running a fever, he was just very very lethargic and had an upset stomach.

He slept on the van ride to the Elephant Farm and sat around for most of the introduction.  There was another little boy, the same age as Parker, in our group.  If Parker had felt better, I think they would have had a great time together.  But Parker just really didn’t want to be there.  At one point he laid down in the dirt and tried to sleep.  It was at that point that Matthew and I seriously considered finding a ride back to the hotel.  But then the elephants came around.  Despite being sick and not eating for 2 days, Parker perked up a bit.

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Let me tell you a little about Patara Elephant Farm.  I researched several elephant farms in the Chiang Mai area.  I wanted to visit one that gave you lots of one on one time with the elephants and also one that was truly interested in their well being.  I absolutely did not want touristy elephant rides through the jungle or elephants in chains!

Patara Elephant Farm gives you a full hands-on experience of being an “elephant owner for a day”.  It is work! You are responsible for one elephant for the whole day.  You have to check them out to make sure they are in good health.  Which means making sure they are producing tears (they’re not crying), that their feet are in good shape and you also have to check the consistency of their poop and make sure it smells right.

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Parker wanted no part of the poop smelling

After inspecting your elephant, you have to feed him or her.  We fed them sugar cane and bananas.  Parker had his own baby elephant to take care of, but since he wasn’t feeling well, he wanted to stay with me.  But don’t worry, someone else took care of the baby!

IMG_1359After their meal, we had to brush them off and take them down to the river for a bath.  I will tell you, it’s not very easy to wash an elephant! They don’t stand still and the younger ones want to play and go under the water. But Parker seemed to have a great time bathing his baby elephant.  I was happy that something took his mind off of being sick.  Even if only for a short time.

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After bathing and playing with the elephants in the river for awhile, it was time to ride them back to the main camp area for lunch.

You ride completely bareback, no seat or bench, just a rope to hold on to.  A few years ago we did a camel trek in the Sahara Desert and I can tell you that elephants are a bit more comfortable to ride, but harder to get on.

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Parker getting a leg up on to his elephant

Once you get yourself on, it’s not completely uncomfortable.  You sit way up on his neck and put your knees behind his ears.  I never felt like I was falling off.  By the way, there is a video of me getting up on the elephant, but I don’t think I will be posting that.

Lunch was delicious, with many different Thai foods – and fried chicken! Parker did not eat anything, just as I expected.

I think Parker’s baby elephant knew he was sick.  During and after lunch, Parker sat and laid on one of the benches in the field.  His elephant kept coming over to him and standing very close.  He was a young elephant, but I think he knew Parker was sick and wanted to comfort him.

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Excuse the finger! I grabbed my camera fast because I had no idea this would happen more than once.

After lunch, we got back on our elephants and rode them back to the area where they spend their nights.  Riding the elephants through the jungle was a wonderful experience that I will never forget!

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That’s Parker in the front!

IMG_2258Wednesday March 26, 2014

This was our last full day in Chiang Mai.  Our Air Asia flight to Bangkok was leaving at 7:50pm.  Parker was feeling a little better today.  Not great, but better.

Another activity Parker was really looking forward to was Tiger Kingdom.  Now, I am not a fan of zoos or any place that keeps animals in captivity for human enjoyment.  So I am aware that I sound like a total hypocrite for visiting this place or even THINKING about visiting it.  Even if the tigers aren’t chained up or drugged, they are still spending their lives in small cages.  Never experiencing their natural instinct to hunt or run.  I have struggled with my decision before we went, while we were there and even now.  But we did it and this is what it was like.

We took a tuk-tuk to Tiger Kingdom which was a huge mistake.  We could have paid about the same price for a cab and been comfortable in the A/C and not breathing exhaust for 40 minutes.  I guess I didn’t realize how far Tiger Kingdom was from Le Meridien.

Children are only allowed to visit the very young tigers so that’s where we started.  Parker was very excited to pet a tiger and he enjoyed the experience from beginning to end.  As an animal lover, of course I loved being so close to these beautiful cats, stroking their soft fur and hearing them purr.  (“soft kitty, warm kitty…”) But, as an animal lover, I was also very disappointed in myself.  What was I teaching my child?

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It’s funny how afraid Matthew was.  He did not trust the tigers.  Even such small ones.  Every picture that he is in you can just see how uncomfortable he is!

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I really wanted to go in with the big adult tigers but when the time came, I didn’t do it.  I felt I had done enough and given them enough of my money.  And for what really? So I could post photos on Facebook and Instagram? “Look at me with the big scary tiger!” No…that’s just not me.  I couldn’t do it.  So we took the long, hot, noisy, stinky ride back to the hotel.

All of the hipster backpackers say if you don’t visit Chiang Mai and all the wonderful temples, then you can’t really say you’ve been to Thailand.  Well, I want to say I’ve been to Thailand, so we went to a temple.  Just one.  Wat Chedi Luang.

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It really is a beautiful temple.  Especially at sunset.

On our way to the airport, we stopped at The Mexican Grill.  I had heard about this place on TripAdvisor and Facebook.  People seem to love it.  I don’t know.  We didn’t.  We were the only customers in the restaurant for the majority of our visit and it still took over an hour to have our order taken and our food served.  Our taxi driver was waiting for us in the parking lot to take us to the airport and a couple times he came around to the door to see what was taking us so long.  The food was ok, for Mexican food in Thailand.  It’s in a very out of the way location, so I wouldn’t bother going there again if I was in Chiang Mai.

Overall Impression

I don’t think I liked Chiang Mai as much as I could have because of dealing with a sick child.  We didn’t really get to “experience” many of the things people love about it.  We did things to make Parker happy because he was sick.  We probably should have stayed in the room for 2 days and let him sleep off his sickness.

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I thought Le Meridien was fabulous.  The staff was incredibly friendly.  On our last day they sent the hotel nurse to our room to check on Parker.  He was completely passed out on the bed the entire time she was there.  He looked like he was on death’s door.  She said we should take him to the hospital.  That really scared me.  At the time, I didn’t know that that is how you see a doctor in Thailand. (I would learn much more about doctors and hospitals in Thailand later in the trip)  She did not speak English and had the Concierge with her to translate, but his English wasn’t much better.  She didn’t really do anything to help us, but I really appreciated the fact that she came to check on him.

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A tiger and a smile

Here is a brief rundown of our costs for 3 days in Chiang Mai.  I did not write down every expenditure because we had to pay cash for many things (tuk tuks, laundry etc) but I will tell you that things are very cheap in Chiang Mai.  And even Bangkok for that matter.  If you are planning to tour Thailand I would suggest doing your shopping in Chiang Mai and Bangkok and not wait until you get to Phuket.  That’s what I did, and prices are Considerably higher in Phuket!

  • 2 nights at Le Meridien Chiang Mai: $80 + 4,000 SPG points on Cash+Points
  • 1 day at Patara Elephant Farm for 2 adults and 1 child: $444
  • 1 visit with small tigers at Tiger Kingdom for 2 adults and 1 child: $123
  • 3 visits to McDonalds! $12.37
  • Dinner at the Mexican Grill: $28.78

Next post: Bangkok

 

VISA Gift Card From Staples – And An Apology

Staples AMEX Sync Offer

One of the American Express Sync offers that is apparently very popular is the $15 off of $100 spent at staples.com.

Yesterday I ordered a VISA gift card from staples.com using my SPG Rewards American Express and today I got an e-mail (and a phone call!) telling me that my shipment is delayed.  It is now scheduled to arrive July 25!  2 weeks! Wow.  Everybody must have bought VISA gift cards at Staples yesterday.  Did you?

I’m Sorry

I will start by saying I know very little about IT “stuff”.  I used to have a blog over on blogger.com where all I had to do was write.  This kind of blogging, using Word Press, is a bit more difficult.  At least, for me.

After appearing on the Million Mile Secrets blog, I started getting SPAM comments. Lots and lots of spam, spam, spam, fried eggs and spam. I seriously got over 250 of them just in the past few days. So I decided I better get some kind of Spam filter on the blog. In the meantime, I apparently missed some legitimate comments from you, my wonderful new readers. I just discovered them today and replied to each one.

I apologize that I did not get on that sooner.

Unfortunately, unlike some of the bigger blogs, I do not have a staff.  I don’t have someone to write my articles for me or research what’s going on in the travel world.  I have also taken 2 pretty big trips in the past month. (and really, isn’t that why we’re doing this??)  I’ve had my son’s birthday and my husband’s birthday AND (most importantly) I’ve had a 6 year old to play with and take care of.  So again, I offer my apology for not responding to comments in a timely manner.  I do appreciate them so much!

Downtime

Other than a weekend trip to Baltimore for a wedding in August, I have no trips planned until mid-October.  My son starts first grade in a month and 2 days.  A month! Can you believe that? So I should have plenty of time now to get caught up on some trip reports I want to post and also organize some of my pictures.

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By the way, in October we are going to Beaches Turks and Caicos for a week.  This will be our third time there.  If you have young children, I highly recommend a trip to Beaches! It is fabulous! (another trip report I need to write) It’s not cheap, but we have always used AAdvantage miles (25,000 miles RT in off-season!) to get there, which takes the sting out of the total cost.  They actually have a rewards program, but it has only given me about $250 off.  Probably because I always book the cheapest room, at the cheapest time of year!  They have a Bank of America credit card to go with the reward program, but I don’t think it’s a very good deal.  They give you 10,000 points for signing up and you earn one point per dollar spent.  You need 75,000 points to get 3 free nights at Beaches.  That 10,000 points you get for signing up gets you a $100 spa credit.  I think I would just rather pay for a spa treatment than waste a credit hit on that.

Happy Travels!

 

 

Amazon Payment Fail – and subsequent heart failure

Jumping On A New Bandwagon

I know of many bloggers who regularly buy American Express Gift Cards (AGC) via online shopping portals and earn cash back.  I figure I spend roughly $250 a year buying gift cards and I would rather that NOT be part of my travel budget.  So I needed to find a way to offset that expense.  Hello online shopping portals!

WARNING: Always read the fine print when going through any online shopping portal and make sure you understand the terms and conditions.  Also some credit cards will code AGC purchases as CASH ADVANCES, and you don’t want that.  It’s usually just Citi, but check this Flyertalk thread for more information.

For my first test I went through Be Frugal and bought a $200 American Express gift card.    There was a 3.95 purchase fee BUT I earned 2.5% cash back.  So I actually made a $1.05 profit! Woohoo!  Not much I know, but this was just a test to see how it goes.

I signed up for a 3 month free trial of American Express Premium Shipping Service so I did not have to pay a shipping fee.  If you use any kind of free shipping code when placing your gift card order, you will NOT earn your cash back from the shopping portal.  UNLESS it’s a promo code offered by the shopping portal.

Normally the shipping cost is $8.95.  So $8.95 shipping plus $3.95 is $12.90 and with my $5 cash back, I would be PAYING $7.90.  I think you can figure out, that is NOT a good deal.  However, if you bought a $1,000 gift card at 2.5% cash back you would get $25 and therefore make a $12.10 profit.  So if you have to pay shipping, it is best to buy high denomination gift cards.  But I plan to take advantage of the free shipping for the next 3 months.

American-Express-Gift-Card

What To Do With An American Express Gift Card

The easiest thing to do is just use it for everyday spending.  But that isn’t earning you more points for using another credit card for your everyday spending.  You can also use the AGC to buy VISA gift cards and then load them to Bluebird.  But you have to keep in mind that you will be paying a fee to buy that VISA gift card, which eats into your cash back profit.

The last option is to liquidate it through Amazon Payments. You are limited to $1,000 a month with this option, but it is the easiest way to liquidate gift cards.

Uh Oh

I ordered the gift card yesterday and it arrived on my doorstep at 9am this morning.  I don’t feel like getting dressed making a trip to Walmart today and since I only made $1.05 profit on this card, I didn’t want to spend another $4.94 on a VISA gift card.  So I decided to send it to my husband via Amazon Payments.  I have never had an issue doing this in the past – but I have never used an AGC!

I logged into Amazon Payments and entered the gift card number and expiration date and set it up to send $200.  About 5 minutes later, I got this email.

Greetings from Amazon Payments,

Your payment of $200.00 to ********* has failed.

Thank you for using Amazon Payments.
For further information about Amazon Payments, please visit our Help pages

No explanation of why.  Just….failure.  Of course I totally freaked out and thought for sure I was being shut down by Amazon Payments.

shwew

 

I did a frantic google search and found this post.  Basically, if Amazon Payments recognizes your card as a gift card, it places a $1 hold on the card.  So my payment of $200 failed because it was over the limit.  So I went back in and sent him $175 and it went through with no issue.

 

 

Wow.  One of my biggest fears in this game is getting “shut down”.  By anyone.  I have said it many times, I am very conservative when it comes to Manufactured Spending. And I think there are people out there who would raise many more red flags than I would, but you just never know.

Be careful out there, peeps! And tread lightly! Especially if you are a newbie!

Happy Travels!

AMEX Sync Offers and Walmart Gift Cards

Shop on Amazon for Free!

American Express Sync is giving targeted members some pretty great deals right now.  The best offer is the $20 statement credit for spending $20 at Amazon.

Unless you check your account regularly or read several miles and points blogs, you may not know if you have been targeted for this offer.  I don’t think American Express sends out e-mails letting you know about these offers.  At least, I didn’t get one!

To find out if you were targeted, log into your American Express account and click on “Offers For You” near the bottom of the page.  Scroll through the offers and “Save” the offer you like to one of your American Express accounts.

I checked my account and found that I was offered the $20 statement credit for spending $20 at Amazon (apparently some people are offered $20 for spending $40).   I have an SPG card and a Delta SkyMiles Platinum card.  Once I saved the offer to my SPG card, it no longer appeared on my SkyMiles card.  I was hoping to get the offer twice (as some folks have been reporting they are able to do) but once I saved it to a card, it disappeared.

This information would have been useful to me YESTERDAY when I purchased a new vacuum on Amazon! But if I can’t find something else to buy on Amazon before August 31, 2014, I can always buy a restaurant gift card. I bet you didn’t know that Amazon sells gift cards! Well, they do!  You have to watch the gift cards though.  Some offer free shipping and some offer free shipping only with a $35 purchase.  Of course, if you have Amazon Prime, this is not an issue.

AMEXsync

 

As you can see, I also saved the Bonefish Grill offer and the Sally Beauty offer.  Those are just like really great coupons!

There is also a Costco offer, but we do not have Costco in my area.

Gift Cards Are Not Dead!

Every morning I try to read as many of my favorite blogs as I can.  And almost every day there will be a post about the death of the gift card/money order/Bluebird/Manufactured Spending game.  “Oh…I tried to load gift cards at Walmart and it didn’t work, the game is over”  “Oh….I am stuck with $6,000 worth of gift cards that I can’t unload.” “Oh….the Walmart cashier would not let me buy gift cards with a credit card” “Oh…the cashier at Walmart told me they won’t accept debit cards to load to Bluebird anymore”

First of all….stay away from the Walmart cashiers! I avoid them like the plague!  I am fortunate that the 2 Walmarts in my area have kiosks that work about 75% of the time.  This morning I stopped by Walmart and bought a $500 Happy Birthday gift card, went straight to the Bluebird Machine and loaded it, no problem

See?

bluebirdscreenshot

 

You will also see that I only have $900 in my Bluebird account.  As I said in my Million Mile Secrets interview, I am very conservative when it comes to Manufactured Spending. I don’t do it every month and I don’t pay off credit cards with other credit cards.  I also have never bought more than one gift card at a time! I just don’t want to raise any red flags!  Maybe I’m too cautious.  I’m sure I could earn a lot more miles if I did more.  But I don’t.

Over the next 3 weeks, I will buy two more Happy Birthday gift cards at Walmart and raise my Bluebird balance to about $1,900 which will pay my August mortgage, electric bill, and water and sanitation bill.  That’s it.

I have said this many times before.  Don’t get into this game just because I do it.  Or just because the other, more popular bloggers do it.  Do it because you want to travel.  Do what you feel comfortable doing.  If you don’t feel comfortable buying gift cards and using Bluebird, then don’t do it!

To be honest, I still don’t feel entirely comfortable with the gift card/Bluebird thing.  My stomach starts churning when I walk up the cash register to buy the gift card and expect the cashier to say “Sorry, you cannot buy a gift card with a credit card.”  Then once I get past that, it starts again when I wait for the Bluebird to say “YOU LOSE” and spit a “declined” receipt at me.  But fortunately, neither of those things has ever happened to me.  (except when I bought the wrong kind of gift card)

So…don’t believe everything you read on the other blogs.  Gift cards are alive and well.  I plan to keep drinking from this well until it dries up!

Happy Travels!

Welcome Million Mile Secrets Readers!

Be Kind 😉

I’m relatively new to the blogging world, but I have been traveling on Miles and Points for years.  So my experience is there, my writing just needs to catch up.

I am a regular reader of MMS and many other “big” sites, but I am trying to add my own perspective on traveling on Miles and Points with a child.  Getting that third ticket can be tricky! Especially if you want to fly in a premium cabin.  (which we can’t always do)

I have just returned from a week in Europe and prior to that, 10 days in the Orange County/Anaheim area.  I have some trip reports to get together so I hope you will check back with me as I get them online.

Thank you and Happy Travels!

Another $10,000 Spend Requirement

Can I Do It?

I think so.  I hope so.  There has been a lot of talk in the blogs lately about people getting 2 (and sometimes even 3) Citi AA Executive cards with the 100,000 AAdvantage miles sign-up bonus.  My husband and I each got one earlier this year, but with people getting multiples, I had to try again.  So I had my husband apply last week.  He got “pending” status, but did not call in to push it.  Frankly he was busy at home with installing hardwood floors and taking care of Parker while I was in Europe.  But even without calling, the card arrived by UPS a few days ago.  He called to verify the 100,000 miles after spending $10,000 in 3 months and the $200 statement credit.  The Citi rep verified that this was indeed the offer he will receive.

Citi-Executive-100000-001

Fortunately I have a couple big expenses in the next couple months that will take a chunk out of the 10K.  The second half of the installation charge for the hardwood floors mentioned above and the final payment on our Beaches vacation.  I’m pretty sure I can cover the rest with bill paying through Bluebird and every day spending.  I may have to throw in an Amazon payment or two as well.

Only One Card This Summer

This Citi Executive card will be the only card we apply for this summer.  I am going to give it a rest for a few months and let our credit scores rise by a few points.  We are both still well over 800, but I don’t want to take any chances.  If some great bonus comes along I will go for it, but otherwise I will do my next round of applications in the fall.

Happy Travels!