Amazon payments – last hoorah

I only have 2 weeks and 2 days before the end of the Amazon Payments ride.  Technically it doesn’t end until Oct 13, but I only have until Oct 7 because I am leaving for Turks and Caicos on Oct 8 and who wants to mess with sending Amazon Payments when they are here?

beaches-turks-caicos-resort-villages-spa-4-lgNot me! So I have to get $3,000 transferred between my husband and me and back before Oct 7.  Normally that is a big NO – NO, but at this point who cares?  What are they going to do?  Shut down my Amazon Payments account?

I still need to earn about 5,000 more miles on my Delta SkyPesos account so I have enough for 3 business class tickets to Europe.  (although I am still questioning that decision)  I have heard of American Express opening financial reviews on people using AMEX cards for Amazon Payments and I don’t want to risk that.  So, since I have free shipping on AMEX gift cards through 10/12 and a code for no purchase fees (which I could not use and get cash back), I have decided to order three $1,000 gift cards and liquidate those through Amazon Payments.

I actually may buy a couple more before my free shipping expires and use them to buy VISA gift cards at Walmart and liquidate the VISA gift cards through Bluebird.  Then I should be finished with Delta.

Have you heard that you can now withdraw cash from your Bluebird (via MoneyPass ATM) with no fee?  You can! Up to $750 per day and $2,000 a month.  That makes recycling the money very easy.

I have been withdrawing cash from Serve and depositing it into my checking account, but the bank tellers always seem to have something to say.  Like “That’s the first cash deposit I’ve had all week” or “Wow…you never see cash anymore”  I’m sure they’re just innocent comments, but because I have always felt slightly dirty doing this, I don’t like it.  I always have a story ready like we sold our jet ski or had a yard sale.  I’m not doing anything wrong.  (repeat 100 times)

Is the demise of Amazon Payments going to affect your Manufactured Spending strategy?

 

Feeling Funky

I think I’m in a Miles and Points funk.  I need to apply for a Marriott Rewards Premier VISA card for my husband before his offer expires on Monday.  I was going to do that today, along with one or two other cards.  But I just don’t feel like it. 

I think part of this is caused by the fact that I have not booked our summer 2015 trip.  I still don’t have enough Delta SkyPesos for 3 business tickets.  Although I checked availability yesterday for some random dates next summer and actually found 3 business seats on Alitalia to Athens.  (which is our #1 choice) But when I was checking out the hotel options on some of the islands, I was disappointed to see that there were very few options for reward stays.  Except places like the SPG Mystique that wants 60,000 points for 1 night.  It’s beautiful but….no thanks.

mystique

SPG Mystique Santorini

So that leaves me looking for “budget” accommodations on Santorini.  With a caldera view, if you please.  Yeah, right.  Although I did find a rather nice one for about $130 per night in mid-July which is not bad at all.

As much as I despise cruises, I actually started looking at Greek Island cruises. I thought that would be a good way to see the islands without paying the crazy hotel prices on the fancy ones.  I only looked at a couple cruise lines yesterday but one of the itineraries said it arrived in Santorini (Or Mykonos…can’t remember now but it was one of the two) at 6pm and left at 11pm.  What’s up with that?  Maybe it’s a party island and people go mainly for the nightlife.  That’s not a great plan for a family.  Actually even without Parker I probably wouldn’t like that.

So I think I am at a point where I feel rather saturated with miles and points (a quick look at Award Wallet tells me we have about 1.5 million of them) and no ability to use them.  I feel saturated, but yet when I think of burning 375,000 Delta SkyPesos on 3 tickets I go into hoarding mode. I don’t want to let them go.

This is terrible.  I must snap out of this.  I think I will go ahead and apply for his Marriott card and perhaps a Frontier card as well.  I wasn’t going to mess with Frontier anymore but they have started offering some new routes out of CVG so it might be nice to have a small stash of them on hand.  Though I have a slight fear of a denial from Barclay’s because he has not used his US Airways card very much.   But I didn’t use mine much either and I was approved for the Frontier card.  And he has only applied for 2 other cards in 2014, so he doesn’t have many pulls.

If anybody reading this has been to Greece, please share some ideas with me! And keep in mind we will be traveling with a 6 year old so we need family friendly places and activities.

Amazon Payments

stoneRIP

 

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that beginning on Oct 13, 2014 you can no longer use Amazon Payments to make person-to-person payments.

I noticed a small change in the system last month when a friend tried to (legitimately, I might add) send me $525 for her share of a trip we have planned together.  (see previous “Dilemma” post) and it would only allow her to send me $500.  I checked my account and it wanted me to add my bank account information to allow me to send and/or receive the full $1000 a month.  I have been sending $1000 a month for the past year without a bank account linked to my AP account.

I don’t have a bank account linked to my AP account because it is linked to my husband’s account and I didn’t want any red flags being raised.  But now, in light of the demise of AP, I think today I will add my bank account information and send him a couple payments. Why worry about getting shut down now, right?  We are all being shut down next month. I will then also send him $1,000 in October as one last hurrah.

I used AP pretty heavily at the beginning of 2014 to help meet the $10,000 minimum spend on our THREE Citi Executive cards.  But once I completed that, I honestly haven’t used the service much.

But now that it is being taken away, I will mourn the loss.  What if I get stuck with a gift card that I can’t liquidate for some reason?  AP was always a good back-up to have.   I guess this will force me to be more cautious with the gift cards I buy.

How will this change affect your Manufactured Spending techniques?

Edited**  I’m having trouble sending money this morning.  I wonder if the system is being overloaded.  Calm down people!  You still have a month to get this done.  I think I will wait a few days.

Moral Travel Dilemma

I have read many blog posts over the years about bloggers using their seemingly bottomless pit stash of miles and points to send their family and friends on posh vacations all over the world.  They fly them in first class and put them up in the luxury hotel suites.  That’s great.  And it sounds very altruistic.  But, would you do it?  Would I?

For the second time this year I find myself in this rather sticky situation.  The first time was my trip to Europe with a friend this past June.  I did not travel with my husband or my son, it was just me and a friend.  When you travel with a friend, you usually split the cost of the hotel room.  So a $180 room is $90 each, right?  If I travel with my family, the room is $180.  I could use 35,000 IHG points for that $180 room, which isn’t the best value BUT it is better than using 35,000 IHG points for the same $90 room.  Do you see where I’m going with this?

If the person I’m traveling with contributes nothing to the trip in terms of miles or points, should I feel obligated to use mine to offset their cost?  I guess, if I was a completely selfless person.

greed

And I’m not really that greedy! I sincerely enjoy helping people.  If you want to know the best credit card to sign up for to start earning miles and points, I will gladly help you.  If you want to pay for a plane ticket or hotel room and make sure you are getting the best value, I will gladly help you with that too.  But should I GIVE someone my hard-earned miles and points simply because they won’t or can’t sign up for their own?

In the case of my trip to Europe, my friend did provide me with a free plane ticket to Europe.  But we only got business class on the way back AND I had to buy a ticket to Atlanta to even begin the trip – but that’s another rant for another blog post. Now the plane tickets to Europe cost my friend nothing.  No money and no miles.  They were given to her by her employer.  But, she probably would not have taken the trip if it weren’t for me being able to go.  Anyway, because she gave me that ticket I felt more obligated to offset her cost on the hotels so I did use my free night certs and some points to cover most of our hotels.  We each ended up spending about $175 for a week’s worth of hotel stays.  Not bad for Europe.

prague

That’s me in Prague. Thanks JoJo!

Now my current dilemma.  Next spring break, a friend and I decided to take our sons to Disney World in Florida.  Crazy idea during Spring Break, I know.  But again, another blog post for that one!

I have been looking at hotels and want to get one booked before the good ones are gone.  I want the trip to cost as little money as possible because I went WAAAY over my travel budget in 2014, so I want to try to conserve next year.

After looking at all the hotel chains in which I have points, I decided the best value would be the Carlson Country Inn and Suites near Universal.  The Gold Points rate is 28,000 points per night and I could split the reservation to maximize the BOGO points redemption, (use my account for 2 nights and Matthew’s account for 2 nights) That would mean 56,000 in points for 4 nights and 2 paid nights for $208.46 total.

If we paid straight cash for the room it would be $625.38.  Divided by 2 is $312.69 each.

If we did the points for 4 nights and cash for 2 nights scenario, I could use points to cover my half and she could pay $300.

So help me out here.  What do you do when you are traveling with friends? Treat them? Or make them pay half, as if you are not using points.

I’m really not trying to be greedy.  Really.

Black Tuesday and other thoughts

So about 2 weeks ago I wrote a post about my “new” discovery of buying American Express Gift Cards through shopping portals and earning cash back.  Earning cash back on these cards really helps defray the cost of buying VISA gift cards to load on to Bluebird.

Since I started churning credit cards and playing the miles and points game I am ALWAYS waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And this past Tuesday, it did.  At least as far as cash back on American Express Gift Cards is concerned.

American-Express-Gift-Card

As of Tuesday afternoon, all shopping portals (for cash back or miles/points) pulled American Express Gift Cards.  If you read Flyertalk, there is all sorts of speculation as to why this has happened.  Everything from a re-negotiating of contracts between AMEX and merchants to too much Manufactured Spending has been speculated.  Some suggest the cash back offers may come back in the next month or two, as a similar blackout happened last fall.  Only time will tell.

I got one last $2,000 American Express Gift Card purchase in under the wire on Monday morning.  I hate that I can’t earn cash back anymore, but I’m happy with what I earned this month and that I came out ahead!  Since early August I have spent $46.43 on fees to buy VISA gift cards BUT I have earned $100.50 for purchasing American Express Gift Cards via BeFrugal (<– my link) so I am actually $54.07 ahead of the game.  We won’t talk about what I have spent on fees for the past couple years.  But I worked those into my yearly travel budget so they didn’t hurt my daily budget at all.

App-O-Rama 2014

I haven’t really done any big App-O-Ramas this year.  I did a couple small ones for myself, but all Matthew has done this year is get two Citi AA Executive cards.  (but those are very substantial)

Here’s a breakdown of what we have earned and spent for the first 9 months of 2014

Matthew

  • Citi AA Executive Mastercard Feb 2014 – 110,000 miles – $250
  • Citi AA Executive Mastercard Jun 2014 – 110,000 miles – $250
  • Chase Marriott Premier Rewards  Sep 2014 – 72,000 points  – $0

Laura

  • Citi AA Executive Mastercard Mar 2014 – 110,000 miles – $250
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa  May 2014 – 48,000 points – $0
  • Club Carlson Premier Visa  May 2014 – 87,500 points – $75
  • Wells Fargo Propel Amex May 2014 – 43,000 points – $0
  • Delta Skymiles Amex Gold Business  Aug 2014 – 52,000 miles – $0
  • Chase Marriott Premier Rewards  Aug 2014 – 72,000 points – $0

So all together we earned 330,000 airline miles, 231,500 hotel points, 48,000 Ultimate Rewards points (that I will probably transfer to United next year) and 43,000 points that I am going to use for Disney World park hopper tickets in March 2015.

To get all those points and miles, we spent $825.  I know…that’s a lot.  But, like I said, I work that into my yearly travel budget, so it doesn’t really hurt.

I am going to take a break from applying for cards for a few months.  Unless something comes along that is too good to pass up!  No reason for this really, other than giving my credit score a rest.  Both of our scores are still above 800, so all this credit card churning has not hurt us in the least and probably has even helped our scores to go up.

My plan is to apply for the Southwest personal and business card in early 2015 to earn the companion pass.  Unfortunately we don’t live in an area that Southwest serves, but it would be worth driving to Louisville for all those free flights.  Heck, people from here drive to Louisville when they are PAYING for flights!

Summer 2015

I’m ashamed to say that I still do not have anything booked for our summer vacation in 2015.  I don’t have enough Delta miles yet! I am still about 8,000 miles short.  I may end up buying the remaining miles I need since the plug has been pulled on the American Express gift cards.  I will still try to push out some MS in the next month so I can have close to enough by October and book then.  If anything is left.

We have no idea where we want to go really and at this point, we will probably just spin the Delta wheel and see where it lands.  Where ever I can get 3 business class tickets to, is where we will go.  I am going to try for Greece, Italy or France.  But who knows where we will end up!  And actually we may stay in the US next year! Imagine that! But I have always wanted to explore the west – Arizona, Wyoming, Montana, Utah.  2015 may be the year to do that!

Happy Travels!

 

Bucket List

I have always hated that term.  Bucket List.  I don’t know why.  I just don’t like it.  Then, I realized I had one.  Nothing official, nothing written down, just a list in my head of places I want to go and things I want to experience before I die.

bucket-listWhen I look at that picture I see “life goal” things on there.  Like “get fit”.  Well I think right now, at 46, I’m about as fit as I’m going to be.  That’s not saying I’m giving up, but I am at a healthy weight and I am in overall good health.  I’m not going to kill myself at the gym to try to look like a supermodel.  It’s not happening.

What else is on that bucket?  “Write a book.”  Yeah, right.  I can barely keep up this blog. (thanks for reading and sticking with me, BTW) “Donate blood.” I’ve done that a few times.  Passed out every time. I don’t see “sky dive” on that bucket, but I will tell you right now, I have no desire to jump out of a perfectly good plane.

My great-grandmother traveled all over the world in the 1960s and 70s and used to show me pictures of exotic places like Egypt and India.  Her stories and pictures planted a travel bug in my soul that has never gone away.

Travel has been my dream, my passion and my ultimate pleasure for as long as I can remember.  When I was a kid, we did not have much money and our annual summer vacation was to Lexington, Kentucky (about an hour south).  I loved it though because I got to stay in a hotel and eat at restaurants every day.

I never went to Disney World or the beach. I did not take my first airplane trip until I was 17 years old.  It was a good one though – Paris.  (France, not Kentucky)

Maybe I am so obsessed with travel now because I did not travel as a child.  I often think about Parker and his feelings about travel.  He took his first airplane trip at 3 months (to California) and his feet have not been on the ground much since then.  He has been to 4 continents in the past 6 years.  Will he experience “travel burn-out” before he’s a teenager? I hope not.

So, without further ado, I present my bucket list.  I am writing this mostly for myself, so I can have the satisfaction of drawing lines through them.  But I’m also writing it to hopefully inspire someone to start their own list and draw lines through it.

  1. Petra
  2. Scuba dive in the Red Sea
  3. Pyramids of Egypt
  4. African Safari
  5. Red Square Moscow
  6. Chernobyl
  7. Bran Castle & Hoia Bachu Forest
  8. Scuba dive with Manta Rays
  9. Machu Picchu
  10. Scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef
  11. Phuket, Thailand
  12. Ayers Rock
  13. New Zealand
  14. Cuba
  15. Tikal, Guatemala
  16. Fiji or Moorea
  17. Blue Grotto
  18. Loch Ness
  19. Mt. Everest Base Camp
  20. Mykonos & Santorini
  21. The Wave
  22. Northern Lights
  23. Scuba dive Truk (Chuuk) Lagoon
  24. Camel trek in the Sahara Desert
  25. Poveglia Island

So, what’s on your list?