My Pretty Redbird AND Saving Money at Disney

RIP Serve

serve-1As I’m sure you know by now, Serve will no longer allow credit card loads beginning on April 16.  Boy, that was fun while it lasted.  The limits were low (only $1,000 per month), but I could do it from the comfort of my home.  I didn’t have to put on my PJs and go to Walmart to buy gift cards and hope that Kate was not ill.

I will finish out my $1,000 for March and get $1,000 more loaded before April 16 and then I will bid adieu to Serve.   We had a good run, you and I.

But, wait, what’s this?  A pretty little red bird on the horizon?  Unfortunately, I live in an area that does not sell the Target Prepaid RedCard (aka RedBird) and when I was looking through the list of states that sell them, I could not think of anybody I knew who lived in one.  Apparently, I forgot about my niece in Maryland! Well…my nephew’s wife.  Technically, my husband’s nephew’s wife.  My niece-in-law? In-law?

Anyway! I explained to her what I wanted and she had no problem stopping at Target on her way home from work to pick one up for me.  She even loaded it with $5!  She then sent me a picture of the card showing the number and the 4 digit code on the front of the card.  I used that information to register the card online, in my name.  Within 3 or 4 days I received a personalized, permanent RedCard in the mail.

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I was a bit nervous going to Target to load the card.  Since my local Target does not sell them, I wasn’t sure they would know what they are and/or what to do with them.  Visions of WalMart danced in my head.

It was a rather busy Sunday afternoon at Target, but the express line had no wait.  I walked right up to the register and said “I’d like to load my RedCard please”, like I had done it a million times.  She looked at me with a smile and said, “Of course!”

I loaded $325 with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card with absolutely no issues.  It was the easiest thing ever.  I was in and out of the store in about 5 minutes. (Confession…I was having Walmart flashbacks when swiping my credit card, trying to keep it out of her sight so she wouldn’t bark at me “Cash or debit ONLY!”.  When she asked to see the card for the last 4 digits, I had a mild panic attack.  But she entered them, handed it back to me and I was done)  As my son would say “Easy, peasy, lemon squeezey”

So now, where do I go from here? I need to have some sort of strategy for loading the card.  I don’t have any minimum spending requirements to meet, so I need to beef up an account that I plan to use soon.  Ultimate Rewards points are ultimately the most valuable in my opinion, so I think I will focus on them.  But I can’t get too greedy and have Chase wonder why I am suddenly spending so much money at Target.  In even amounts.  I can fix part of that by loading, say, $432.67 to make it look like an actual purchase.  As I have said before, I am not a HUGE manufactured spend(er).  I usually do only a couple thousand a month to pay bills with.  The RedBird limits are $2,500 per day and $5,000 per month, so I can’t go too crazy anyway.  I read blogs of people who do $15,000 or $20,000 a month (and I’m sure you read them too) and honestly, I think those are the people who ruin this for the rest of us who play conservatively.

Right now I only have 1 RedBird, but when Serve dies I think I will close it and open a RedBird in Matthew’s name.  That will give us $10,000 of MS availability each month.  Not that I would use that much.

I also might buy a few American Express Gift Cards through cash back portals.  I will likely use my SPG Amex card for that.  Right now I can get $30 back for buying a $2,000 Amex gift card.  The gift card will cost $12.90 in shipping and fees, so I will make a $17.10 profit.  Better than nothing.  And then I can load the GC on to my RedBird for no fee.  Less Target purchases appearing on my credit card accounts.

We’ll see how this goes.  I’ll keep you posted.

Saving Money at Disney

We are going to Walt Disney World for Spring Break next week.  Yes, I know we are crazy.

walt-disney-world-news1

 

I have done a pretty good job saving money on the trip.  I booked our rental car way back in October for the great rate of $136 for the week! The same car at the same company booked right now is $299.

We are staying at the Country Inn & Suites by the airport.  It’s not fancy, but it has decent reviews and who spends that much time in the room anyway?  I am using Club Carlson points for half of the stay (with the BOGO deal for having the Club Carlson VISA card) and my friend is paying cash for the 2nd half of the stay and I got a great rate at 30% off for 3 nights.

I used 34,000 reward points from my Wells Fargo Propel American Express card (40,000 point sign up bonus) to get my 5 day adult park ticket and bought my son’s 5 day ticket on Undercover Tourist.   With my leftover Wells Fargo Propel rewards points I got a Best Western hotel gift card that I will use on our trip to Bryce Canyon this fall.

But here is the most recent Disney money saving deal I found.

Do you know about AMEX Offers or AMEX Sync?  For Sync, you connect your Amex card with your Twitter account and follow the American Express Twitter feed to take advantage of money saving offers.    You can also just log in to your Amex account to see “Offers for You” and have them added to your card.

Since the Wells Fargo Propel is actually serviced by Wells Fargo, it does not appear when I log into my American Express account.  My SPG, Delta SkyMiles Platinum and SkyMiles Gold Business card are on my American Express account page online.  You can usually add each offer to only one card.  BUT since the Wells Fargo card is separate, I can get the offer added to that card as well via AMEX Sync on Twitter.

So how does this save money at Disney?  Well, one of the Amex Offers is $10 off a $50 purchase at Lowe’s.  Lowe’s sells gift cards, including Disney Gift Cards.  I bought two $50 Disney gift cards at Lowe’s and got two $10 statement credits from American Express.   I added the offer to my SPG card and my Wells Fargo card and got $100 worth of Disney gift cards for $80.  In my book, this is a 20% discount on food.  That should buy at least one meal, right?  My husband wanted me to use the offers to buy mulch.  Yeah…that sounds like fun.

 

Trip Report: Khao Lak, Thailand

Thailand Trip Reports

 Sunday March 30

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We had an 8am flight on Air Asia from Bangkok to Phuket, followed by a 90 minute drive north to the town of Khao Lak.

I was getting tired of crowded cities and was so happy to see the ocean when we landed.  We were ready for some beach time and …… scuba diving.

I had arranged taxi service in advance from Boss Cheaper Than Hotel Taxi.  Weird name, I know.  But his prices were quite a bit cheaper than regular taxis and he had excellent reviews on TripAdvisor.  We paid 1300 Baht (about $41) for the trip from Phuket Airport to our hotel in Khao Lak.

There was a bit of drama when we arrived at the airport because Boss was not there.  I was really surprised, considering his reviews and the fact that he has a huge fleet of taxis throughout Phuket.  I walked up and down the sidewalk in front of the airport for about 30 minutes looking for a “Boss” taxi.  I was followed the entire time by at least 4 taxi drivers asking me if I wanted a ride.  I kept telling them I was waiting for Boss, but none of them seemed to know who he was.  They were offering me rides for 1800 Baht, which is only about $15 more.  I had not paid Boss in advance and was just about to take one of them, when he appeared.

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No explanation was really offered and we were just glad to get out of the blistering 10am heat.  And after our previous week of scary tuk-tuk rides, it was nice to be in a nice, clean, air conditioned vehicle!

 

 

We had booked 5 nights at the JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort using 100,000 Marriott points.  I used 25,000 points per night and got the 5th night free.  The room rate was about $250 per night and it is now a Category 6 hotel requiring 30,000 points per night.

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Happy to finally get some pool and beach time!

We spent the rest of the day at the pool and ordered a very expensive lunch from the pool bar.

Later that afternoon we checked out the Kid’s Club at the hotel.  I was a bit disappointed with how small it was, but the minute we got there, Parker wanted to stay.

They had a small ball pit with a slide, a room to do crafts and a TV room.  Not much, in my opinion, but kids are easy to please.  Use of the club itself is free for guests, but you have to pay for their meals and any crafts they want to do.  You also have to pay to have them open early.  They seemed kind of taken aback when I asked about this.  As if, nobody has ever done it before.  They open at 9am and the dive boats leave at 7am  – so nobody with kids has ever dived there before?  At any rate, we worked it out and the babysitter was scheduled to pick Parker up at our room at 6:50 am on Tuesday and take him to the hotel restaurant for breakfast and then to the club.

Monday March 31

We spent the morning in the ocean with Parker.  He loved it.  The pool is actually rather deep and it’s hard for him to relax and have fun when he can’t touch the bottom.  The hotel gift shop was selling swim rings for $15.  You know I would never pay that.  We’ll just swim in the ocean instead.

In the afternoon we took the hotel shuttle into the town of Khao Lak to check out the Tsunami Memorial and the market.

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Khao Lak was the coastal area of Thailand hardest hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Most of the coast was completely destroyed.  They have rebuilt a lot in the past 10 years, but evidence of the tsunami is still all around.

Police Boat 813 was washed inland and beached 2km from the ocean, across from the Bang Niang market and has become a memorial site for the tsunami victims.

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We decided to eat a late lunch at a restaurant across the street from the market.  They had some good chicken satay with peanut sauce!

khaolak5And, of course, Parker got chicken nuggets and fries.  He was starting to really get back to his “old self” so I was happy to see him eating.

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The Bang Niang market is pretty big with lots of stalls.  We found all sorts of things for sale.  Including an Iron Man swim ring for about $2!

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Although their display of “knock off” handbags left much to be desired.

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Sad

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Bang Niang market

It was a really hot afternoon and we were anxious to get back to the hotel pool.  Instead of waiting around for the hotel shuttle to come back, we decided to catch tuk-tuk back to the hotel.

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A great way to spend the afternoon

Tuesday April 1

Today is the anniversary of our first date – 25 years ago!  Wow.  And what a day this will be.

All week I have been nervous about diving and my sinus congestion.  I loaded up on Sudafed and thought my head felt clear so I was ready to go.

The babysitter showed up promptly at 6:50am and we were off to the dive shop to catch the 7am shuttle to the dive boat.   It was a 25 minute drive to the pier and then a 2.5 HOUR boat ride to the dive sites of Koh Tachai and Koh Bon.  My fear slowly slipped away and I was excited about our first dive at Koh Tachai.

khaolak13

The beginning of the dive to end all dives

The first thing I realized I should have done before the trip was learn how many kilograms 12 pounds is.  I had no clue and nobody else could figure it out either.  I ended up being underweighted for the dive, which could have been a big part of my problem.  I went in with only 4.5kg which is just under 10 pounds.  Believe me, that 2 pounds makes a HUGE difference.

I was surprised that I had no ear issues on my descent.  Like, none.  I also saw more fish on this dive than I have ever seen on any Caribbean dive, probably combined!  I saw my first clown fish! (Nemo!)  But the best/worst part was the end.

As we were ascending and approaching our 3 minute safety stop at 15ft, I started feeling pressure over my right eye.  Terrible pressure I had never felt before.  At the same time, due to my tank now being quite empty and only wearing 10 pounds of weight, I was not able to control my ascent.  I did not shoot up out of control, but I did ascend faster than I should have.  If I could have gotten my dive buddy’s attention I could have held on to him! But he (and everyone else) was distracted by the most beautiful site I have ever seen.  Not one, not two , but THREE  manta rays and a whale shark swimming right past us!  Absolutely incredible.

Wow.  I completely forgot about my ascent, my ears, my squeeze – everything.  I was completely in awe of these beautiful creatures.  Below is our video, shot with our Go Pro camera.

Worth an ear blowout?

When we got back on the boat,  the squeeze was gone and I was feeling a little fullness in my right ear, but I didn’t think it was that bad.  We had almost an hour on the surface so I thought I would be ok after that to do the 2nd dive.

The 2nd dive was Koh Bon.  We were told that sometimes the Green Monster makes an appearance at Koh Bon.  Yikes.  That doesn’t sound good.

Again, I had no problems equalizing on the way down.  This dive was rather anti-climatic after seeing the whale shark and manta at Koh Tachai.  But there were still loads of fish and clear blue water…until….The Green Monster.  The Green Monster is a dense, cold cloud of plankton that that surges in from the deep.  It’s COLD, it’s murky, it reduces visibility.  Just all around horrible.  The upside is that the plankton sometimes attracts mantas and whale sharks, but not today.  I tried as hard as I could to swim away from it, but that’s impossible.  I was freezing and so ready to get back to the boat, but at the same time I was afraid of another squeeze.  I had added some weight to my belt, so I knew I could go up as slow as possible.  And I did.  I felt some squeeze but not nearly as bad as the first dive.

When we were back on the boat, my nose started bleeding.  This has happened to me before, so I wasn’t overly concerned, but it was still scary.  I also started getting that full feeling in my right ear and made the wise decision to sit out the 3rd dive.

We got back to the hotel around 5pm.  I was happy to see Parker, but really just wanted to go to bed.  I was exhausted and my ear was starting to throb.

Wednesday April 2

Woke up to terrible pressure in my ear. We took Parker to the kid’s club and went to the town to try to find a doctor.  We passed a couple closed clinics (most doctors spend their days at the hospital and have office hours at night) and after about 10 more minutes of walking in the 100 degree heat, we found an open one.   You have to take your shoes off before entering the building and all the patients and the doctor are barefoot.  There is also no air conditioning in the building.

The receptionist and the doctor spoke minimal English, but we managed to communicate.  Dive, ear, owie.  He looked in my ear and said I had a middle ear infection.  I actually had a middle ear barotrauma…but who’s splitting hairs?  He gave me some amoxycillan and pseudo and sent me on my way.

To jump ahead a bit, when I got home I went to an ENT who discovered I had a cyst on my adenoid on the right side.  This was partially blocking the eustachian tube and not allowing air to pass through during the dives.

I spent the day in the room watching Netflix (thanks to Spotflux) and sleeping, while Matthew took Parker to the pool.

Thursday April 3

We had originally planned to dive the Boonsung Wreck today and I told Matthew he could go on and do it, but he decided to stay with me.  I was in considerable pain and I could not hear at all out of my right ear.

We went to the pool for a while, until it started to rain.  We took Parker to the kid’s club and we walked down the beach to a massage hut.  Matthew got a $12 massage that I thought looked incredibly painful, but he said was awesome.  I got a $5 blue manicure.

The ibuprofen was helping a bit, but I had to keep on top of it or the pain became unbearable.  I was looking forward 8 days…would I be able to fly home?

We ate most of our dinners at the restaurants just outside the Marriott on the beach.  They are mostly small shacks, but they served good and inexpensive food.

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Phen restaurant. My favorite.

This was our last night in Khao Lak.  I wish I could have enjoyed it more.  It was really a beautiful place.  I hope someday to go back.  I still want to dive the Similan Islands – once was not enough!

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Here is a list of expenses for this part of the trip:

  • Air Asia flight from Bangkok to Phuket for 3 people – $0  ($169 erased with Capital One Rewards Purchase Eraser)
  • 5 nights at JW Marriott Resort Khao Lak $0/ 100,000 Marriott points
  • Boss taxi from Phuket Airport to Khao Lak $41
  • Marriott Pool Bar lunch – $36 (ouch!)
  • Babysitting on dive day – $15
  • Parker’s meals on dive day – $25
  • 1 roundtrip and 1 one way trip on hotel shuttle bus – $11
  • 3 tank dive for 2 people, Koh Tachai, Koh Bon, Premchai Wreck – $420

There were many other charges for meals and massages that I paid cash for and did not write down.  But as you can see, the diving was the most expensive part of this trip!

 

 

Does Applying For Credit Cards Hurt Your Credit Score?

I know, I know.  Most of the big guy blogs will tell you that it does not.  *I* have even said it does not.  And that is mostly true.  But other things you might do in addition to applying for multiple credit cards can (and likely will) affect your score.  And not always in a positive way.

Before I go any further I want to stress that I am not an expert on credit, credit scores, financial management, banking, mortgages, lending, or veterinary medicine.  If you have serious questions or concerns about your financial situation or credit PLEASE consult a professional.  I have just recently noticed some things in our personal credit profile and I wanted to share that with you.

Various Credit Cards

Prior to Barclay’s offering free FICO credit scores with their credit cards, I did not have access to my score.  I relied on the FAKO score via Credit Karma when applying for cards.  That isn’t necessarily bad, but it also isn’t necessarily accurate.  For example, my FAKO score in May 2013 was 781 while my FICO score was 816.  That’s quite a difference.  But how accurate is a FICO score anyway? You still don’t really know which scoring model or bureau a lender is pulling from.  It all gets quite confusing.

Our Story

My “heaviest” years applying for credit cards was between 2011 and 2013.  Unfortunately, at that time I relied on Credit Karma for my credit scores and did not know what my actual FICO score was.  But, during my first small round of applications in 2014 I had access to our FICO scores and was quite pleased to see that mine was 816 and Matthew’s was 800.  Not bad, considering all the credit cards (and miles and points!) I had accumulated in the past few years!

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In 2014, things started to change.  Both of our credit scores started falling and right now they both sit exactly 16 points lower than they did 1 year ago.

LaurascoreMine was a steady, gradual decline.  Matthew’s had a pretty big dip in the fall.

matthewscoreSo what happened?  What changed in 2014?

Well…a few things.  The biggest being that we refinanced our house in June 2014.  This hit our credit as a “new” loan rather than the same loan with changes in terms.  We also took some cash out of the refinance to have hardwood floors installed.

Other than our mortgage, the only other debt we have is a Wells Fargo financing account from Mattress Firm.  We bought a Tempurpedic bed a few years ago and used their 5 year “same as cash” financing offer.  It is almost paid off and has a minimal affect on our credit score.

When it comes to credit cards, I have 24 open accounts (this includes being an “authorized user”) and I am using 2% of the available credit.  Matthew has 21 open accounts (also as “authorized user”) and is using 3% of the available credit.  All of our bills are paid in full every month.  We have no late payments, delinquencies or collections on our credit report.

So let’s look at the churning we did in 2014, as I think this is responsible for the drop in credit scores.

Matthew applied for only 3 cards in 2014.  A Citi Executive card in Feb 2014, another one in June 2014 and a Chase Marriott Visa in Sept 2014.  This was $55,000 worth of credit extended.   In May 2014 he canceled his SPG American Express card ($23,000 limit) and in August he cancelled his original Chase Marriott Visa ( $18,900)  That means his total available credit decreased by about $13,000 while his debt increased with the refinancing of the mortgage.  I’m GUESSING this is what caused the big drop in Sept 2014 and then the rebound when things shook out a bit.  But then in January he cancelled his Bank Of America Alaska Airlines card (and $18,000 credit line) and the score fell again.

I think Matthew needs to apply for a few cards, stat!

I had a slightly more busy year.  I applied for 7 cards (1 was a business card):

  1. Citi AA Executive  March 2014(+19,000)
  2. Chase Sapphire Preferred May 2014 (+16,000)
  3. US Bank Club Carlson May 2014 (+22,000)
  4. Wells Fargo AMEX June 2014 (+6,900)
  5. AMEX Skymiles Gold Business Aug 2014 (+20,000)
  6. Chase Marriott Premier Aug 2014 ($20,000)
  7. Chase Southwest Premier Personal Dec 2014 ($5,000)

I cancelled 4 cards:

  1. Capital One Venture Apr 2014 (-20,000)
  2. Chase Marriott May 2014 (-20,000)
  3. Citibank AA Visa Sept 2014 (-16,500)
  4. Barclays Frontier MC Sept 2014 (-14,000)

So I gained an additional $38,400 in available credit.  Though some of that was transferred from other accounts.  The Chase Southwest card, for example.  I have a lot of open accounts with Chase so I had to get them to move some credit around to open that Southwest card with the small $5,000 limit.

I really can’t explain the steady decline in my credit score, unless it has something to do with the mortgage, as it is a joint account.

The Take-Away

Your payment history and your amount owed vs utilization are the 2 biggest factors in determining your credit score.  I think it is important to keep track of the credit limit on each of your accounts and make sure things even out when you are canceling and applying for new cards.

Obviously this game is not for everyone.  Fortunately we could afford this dip in our credit scores and still be in the “excellent” range.  Although Matthew is getting close to the edge of excellent, but I think if he gets some more available credit, his utilization rate will go down at least 1% and bump his score up.  At least, that’s what I’m hoping!

I read somewhere that not having a car payment negatively affects your credit score.  I don’t believe that. (where do people get these ideas?) I have not had a car loan in over 6 years! I am really dreading the fact that one is likely in my future in the next 12-18 months.  I love the idea of a new car, but I hate the idea of a payment.  I am going to try (I said TRY) to put some extra in my savings account each month for the next year to hopefully offset the amount of the loan.  The more cash I can pay for a new car, the better!

I am going to take a small break from applying for credit cards this year and let Matthew have all the fun.  I may get a business card or if a really great deal comes along I will jump on it.  But I am going to let my credit rest and see if it bounces back at all.   We do not have a shortage of miles and points at this moment.  According to AwardWallet (< my link, please use it!) we have 46 accounts and 2,031,189 miles and points.  Yay.

Australia 2016!

 

Will 2015 Be A Better Year?

Let’s hope so!

When I started this blog in early 2014, I had high hopes of sharing my travel hacking skillz, my adventures in traveling with a child skillz, and my ADEPTNESS at saving loads of money while traveling the world skillz.  But 2014 was not the greatest year in this game.  It could arguably have been the worst year.  There were major devaluations and the downward spiral of manufactured spending made it hard to meet the spend requirements that come from acquiring 4+ credit cards at one time.  Those glory days are long gone I’m afraid.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! It just can’t be!

There are a few (small) things to look forward to in 2015.

  1. Evolve Money is supposed to start accepting credit cards for bill payment sometime in 2015.  I have never used Evolve, but their list of billers seems rather small.  The only one I could pay through Evolve is Duke Energy.  Using Bluebird, I can pay my small town Water and Sanitation bill and my Trash pickup.  Plus there is also the fear that credit card companies will charge a cash advance fee for bills paid via Evolve.
  2. The Target REDbird card has crept its way into my area.  I will have to schlep myself to Cincinnati to get one, but I can reload at my local store.  I will have to cancel my Bluebird to do this, but from all accounts, this seems to be a worthwhile thing to do.
  3. Delta is going to allow one way redemptions for half price.  Finally.  As you may know, I have quite a stash of Delta miles that I need to burn.  I’m hoping to use them for a Christmas trip to Germany next year.  IF (and that’s a big IF) I can find 3 business class low level redemptions.  (don’t laugh) It really hurts to pay 125,000 miles for business class to Europe when every other airline only charges 100,000 miles.  But I can just burn them and be done with them before Delta devalues them even more.
  4. Matthew traveled so much on business this year that he has Platinum status with Marriott and Silver status with American (once they merge with US Airways) and United.  Silver isn’t such a big deal to all the Diamond Elites out there, but he was upgraded to first class on his last United flight.  Without asking for it, or even knowing he was able to! That was nice.
  5. I hope to earn the Southwest Airlines Companion pass in 2015.  It would allow a companion to fly with me at no cost, whether I pay cash or book with points.  I applied for the Southwest Personal Premier card and have completed the minimum spend on that and I am waiting for my approval (I hope) on the business version of the same card.

 

Summer 2015 – done!

I finally made a decision on our summer trip for this year.  We are going to do a quick Arizona/Utah canyon tour, spend a couple days in Las Vegas and end our trip in Northern California.

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Parker was excited when I told him we could go see “Thor’s Hammer” in Bryce Canyon!

This trip is actually going to be a bit on the pricey side, and I’ll tell you why.

Flights for Parker and I were booked on American Airlines using miles.  I had to pay $22 in taxes.

We are flying into Albuquerque because Matthew’s work trip ends there on the day we are starting our trip.  Since he is already there, we don’t have to pay to get him out there.

But we are flying out of San Jose 10 days later.  That means we have to do a one-way car rental.  And they don’t mess around with those drop-off fees.

We are picking up the car on Friday in ABQ and dropping it off in Vegas on Tuesday.  That 4 day rental with drop off fee started at $498!  There doesn’t seem to be any way around the drop off fee.  I recently checked again and found a better rate, so now we are at $415.  That’s better, but still includes a $250 drop fee.  If anybody knows any tips or tricks to get around that, please let me know!

I am paying cash for our room at the Grand Canyon.  I got a very good rate at the Holiday Inn Express for $112 a night.  The regular rate was $207 or I could get it on points for 35,000 per night.  I did not think that was a good use of points.  IHG points are valued around 0.7 each.  I will earn 4600 IHG points for my 2 night stay.

We are spending 1 night in the Bryce Canyon area at the Best Western East Zion Thunderbird Lodge. I’m paying cash for that one too at $98 per night.  Best Western is supposed to come out with a new credit card product this spring.  I hope it is a good one.  Best Western has hotels all over Europe and I would love to rack up some free nights for our Christmas 2015 trip to France and Germany!

Flamingo_Hotel_Las_Vegas

I love anything that’s pink!

We are spending 3 nights in Las Vegas at the Flamingo.  Again, not a hotel I can use points for.  After the resort fees and taxes, it is going to cost about $94 per night.  Although I may have enough points left over in my Wells Fargo Rewards account to cover at least one night of that.  (I’m using the bulk of my Wells Fargo points for a 4 day Disney World ticket during Spring Break!)

And finally we will use some hotel points to stay at the Towne Place Suites in Milpitas, CA.  They have a great deal at 10,000 points per night but we will each use our “Free Night in a Category 4” certificate we received when we applied for the Marriott Rewards VISA card last year.

We are flying from Las Vegas to San Jose, CA on Southwest.  The retail price was $291, but I had a $100 travel credit on my Wells Fargo Propel card that I used to buy a $100 Southwest gift card to apply to that purchase.

So, all in, I’m paying $1,446 for air, car rentals and hotels for our 11 day trip.  I know it’s not free, but the retail cost of what I’m doing is $4,645.  I doubt anybody would actually pay that for this trip and/or do all the crazy things I’m doing to make this trip work.

New Year’s Resolution

I do not normally make New Year’s resolutions because I believe that all they do is set you up for failure.  But…I resolve to write more in this blog in 2015.  I had so many great ideas and plans when I started, but somehow I lost the motivation.  I still have things rattling around in my head and hopefully I can get them written down!

I know we’re 12 days in, but I want to wish everyone the HAPPIEST of New Years! Make it the best one yet! Get out there and travel!

 

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?

 

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.

Beaches-Turks-and-Caicos-French-Village-Pool

 

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!

 

 

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!

How I spent $20,000 in 3 months…Without Going Broke!

I did it all for 200,000 American Airlines Miles!

Earlier this year, Citibank began offering their Citi Executive / AAdvantage World Elite Mastercard with a sign up bonus of 100,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles! That was too good to pass up.  There were a couple obstacles that made me pause though.  The spend requirement: $10,000 in 3 months.  And the annual fee: $450 not waived for the first year.  Although they do give you a $200 statement credit, so you can actually say the annual fee is only $250.  Still very high, but if you were to purchase miles from the American Airlines website, it would cost you $2,200 for 80,000 miles (the highest amount they sell) and $250 would only get you about 9,000 miles. Continue reading

Earn Points for Mother’s Day Gifts

Gifts for Mom! Or yourself!

Mother’s Day is fast approaching and many online shopping portals are giving bonuses on their usual miles and points offerings.

United Mileage Plus Shopping is offering 3x the miles on Mother’s Day gifts!

Shopping at Sephora through the Mileage Plus shopping portal will earn you 9 points per dollar spent through May 4, 2014.  Which means you can earn 450 miles for a $50 purchase.  Also, if you enter URBANEYE at checkout, you can score a Free Urban Decay Eye Primer and 7 Eyeshadow Samples with any order over $25! But keep in mind that you have to spend $50 to get free shipping.

mothersday

Do something special for Mom this year!

 

You can also earn 30 miles per $1 spent at FTD through the Mileage Plus Shopping portal. A $40 flower arrangement will earn you 1,200 miles!

 

 

Continue reading

Marriott Hotel Category Changes

Marriott Hotel Category Changes? Say it isn’t so!

This is a tough one for me.  Hubby stays at Marriott hotels when he travels and, in fact, has achieved Gold Status with them.  We don’t put much spend on our Marriott cards anymore, so most of our earning is from his stays.  I personally love Marriott.  I like their Rewards program (in spite of massive Category changes the past 2 years) and their properties are always clean and well maintained. But,  it may be time to think about switching hotel loyalty.

This is not a complete surprise though.  As I mentioned in a previous post, most hotels and airlines shuffle their programs around this time of year.  And Marriott did this last year, affecting one of the hotels I was considering for Thailand.

The Details

The award chart, itself, is not changing.  And you will still get the 5th night free if you redeem 4 nights.  Here is the list of categories and points required for each.

  • Category 1:  7,500
  • Category 2:  10,000
  • Category 3:  15,000
  • Category 4:  20,000
  • Category 5:  25,000
  • Category 6:  30,000
  • Category 7:  35,000
  • Category 8:  40,000
  • Category 9:  45,000

There is also a separate category for Ritz-Carlton Hotels.

All redemption reservations booked on or before April 7, 2014 will be honored at the current points, even if the stay is after April 8, 2014.  If you have not ordered your certificate prior to April 8, 2014, you can call Guest Services prior to your stay to request the lower priced certificate.

One thing I really love about Marriott is that they allow you to book 50 weeks in advance, even if you don’t have enough points in your account for the stay!

73% of the properties remain unchanged and 27% are changing categories.  Of that 27%, 22% are decreasing by one category and 78% are increasing by one category.

Marriott released a complete list of hotels that are changing categories.  You can find that list in this article.  I did not like that they did not separate the list of hotels by country.  That made the list very hard to read.

So, once again, if you are considering a stay at a Marriott property, check the list and book it before April 7! Even if you don’t have enough points.  You can always cancel if your plans change, just remember to read the cancellation policy for each reservation to make sure.

Each of the Marriott hotels we are staying at in Thailand is moving up a category.  This time last year, the Renaissance Bangkok Ratchprasong Hotel was a Category 4 and was about to move to a Category 5.  I had some Category 4 certificates that Hubby had earned so I booked 3 nights at the hotel, even though I only had 2 certificates at the time.  Once I got the 3rd certificate, I was able to apply it to the reservation, although I’m honestly not sure if that was an exception or the rule.  Effective April 8, 2014, that Renaissance will now be a Category 6! Incidentally, we are no longer going to stay at the Renaissance because it was right in the middle of the political protests going on in Bangkok last month.   I moved our reservation to the brand new and beautiful Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit., which is a Category 4 and, surprisingly, does not appear to be moving up a category.  (unless I overlooked it in the difficult to read list of hotels)  The Marriott Sukhumvit, in my opinion, looks much nicer than the Renaissance.

JW Marriott khaolak

JW Marriott Resort Khao Lak

Also moving up a category (from a 5 to a 6)  is the JW Marriott Resort Khao Lak.  I am not surprised by this at all as the property looks absolutely gorgeous and I can’t wait to get there!

The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card gives you 50,000 points and a certificate for a Category 1-4 hotel after spending $1,000 in 3 months with $0 annual fee for the first year.  That’s easy enough to spend, but I wish they would change that certificate to Categories 1-5, since 123 (!) properties moved from a Category 4 to a Category 5.  However, you do get a free Category 1-5 certificate every year if you renew the card at $85 a year.

I’m not sure Hubby will give up on Marriott yet, but we may start looking into Hyatt a bit more.  That is the one hotel I have not yet experienced.

Happy Travels!

*I do not receive a commission if you apply and are approved for the Chase Marriott Rewards Credit Card.