Chasing A Dream

Ouch!

Fake Dictionary, Dictionary definition of the word hubris.

 

For the first time In My Life, I was denied personal credit.  And it hurt.  Even though it’s partly my own fault; I did not heed the warnings of those who had gone before me. I just went in, balls to the wall, full of arrogance and my 808 credit score and was promptly shot down.

Let back up a bit, for some context.

Back in June, many bloggers (like MMS, and Mommy Points) and Flyer Talk reported that Chase was cracking down on approving applications for people who they felt had opened too many new accounts in the past 24 months.  And this is from ANY bank! Not just Chase.

At that time it seemed to mostly affect Ultimate Rewards earning cards such as Chase Freedom and Chase Sapphire Preferred.  The airline and hotel cards (United, Marriott, Holiday Inn etc) issued by Chase seemed to be ok for a while.

I had a busy summer.  I spent it with my family and we went on a few great trips.  I did not spend as much time as I maybe should have reading blogs and Flyer Talk (or updating my own blog).  So I knew Chase had tightened up, but I really didn’t think about it possibly getting worse.

I booked Australia!

(yay! I’ll tell you about it later!) Yes I did manage to get that done over the summer.  In fact, I booked my flight to Australia using the Delta Mobile app on my phone while we were driving down to Mammoth Cave.  If you know me at all, you know I am not comfortable doing things like that anywhere but my ginormous desktop computer.  Mobile sites just make me uneasy for some reason.  ANYWAY I am going to need some United miles and British Airways Avios for traveling within Australia and to get from Australia to Thailand.  (yes, I’ve added a whole ‘nother trip to Australia)  So I thought this would be a good time to apply for the British Airways card for myself and the United Card for Matthew.  Both had 50,000 mile sign up bonuses which would more than cover what I needed.

I applied online using a friend’s link for the British Airways card and got the dreaded screen telling me to call in to further process my application.  I didn’t think much of it. Most of my applications have been automatically approved, but I have had to call in a couple of times to verify information.

After verifying my address, SSN and phone number, the Chase agent started getting serious.  She asked about the income I stated on the application and where it comes from.  I told her most of it was from my husband, but a small percentage of it was mine from self-employment.  She asked what my “self- employment” was.  I told her I was a part time tour guide.  (this is true)  Then she put me on hold for what felt like forever while she “reviewed my credit history”.  This is when I started to sweat.  She told me I had applied for 9 cards in the past 12 months.  This is not true.  And I am almost positive she said 12 months and not 24 months.  She then asked “Why did you apply for so many cards? Why do you need so much open credit?”  I told her I don’t need that much open credit and I would be happy to shift some around to open this card.  She was having none of it and said I would not be approved.  I asked if I could close the Southwest card to get this one open.  She said “No.  You have more than enough credit for your needs”

Wow.  She was tough.  And she was not backing down.  I asked if being an Authorized User on my husband’s cards was counting in this denial and she said “No.”  Good thing, because that would have probably put me over 20!

I have always said I am a CONSERVATIVE credit card churner and “Manufactured Spender”.  And I still believe that to be true.

In the interest of full disclosure, let’s look at how many cards I have actually applied (and been approved!) for since August 2013.

August 2013 – SPG Amex

Sept 2013 – Citi AA Visa (closed), Barclays Frontier MC (closed)

March 2014 – Citi AA Executive (closed), Chase Sapphire Preferred, US Bank Club Carlson Visa

June 2014 – Wells Fargo Amex (closed)

August 2014 – Skymiles Business Gold Amex (Business card should not be counted), Chase Marriott (closed)

December 2014 – Chase Southwest Personal

January 2015 – Chase Southwest Business (again, Business card)

June 2015 – Citi AA Mastercard, BoA Alaska Airlines Visa, Barclays Frontier MC

Ok.  That’s 14 cards in the past 24 months.  But 2 business cards should not count.  So that’s 12.  She said 9.  I’m thinking maybe she did not count or see the ones from August and Sept 2013.  That would make the count accurate.

What now?

I’m a little torn over what to do now.  Should I just lay low and not apply for any cards until maybe mid-2016?  That way many of my apps will drop off.  Or should I apply for cards from other banks before the whole thing explodes?  I am leaning toward the last option.

 

Bursting-Bubble

 

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I really think this game is dying.  I know when something dies, something new always comes along.  Every once in a while someone will say, “Do you remember a few years ago when everybody was buying coins from the US Mint?” Well, I think a few years from now people will say, “Do you remember when everybody was getting hundreds of thousands of miles from credit card sign up bonuses? Ah..those were the days”

I mean, look at what has happened recently.  American Express limits sign up bonuses to once per card per lifetime.  Citibank will not give a bonus if you have opened or closed the same card in the past 18 months.  And now Chase is not approving applications if you have opened more than 5 cards in the past 24 months.  What’s next?  Will they all eventually go the same way as American Express? Once per lifetime?

So I think this might be the time to just go for it.  Grab what you can and be happy with what you get before the bottom falls out.  And it will.  If this hobby had remained a secret society, things might still be easy.  But you’ve got too many big name bloggers spewing all the down and dirty details.  Mommy Points was on Nightline for crying out loud!  And even with all the approval crackdowns, they are still pimping their Chase Credit Card affiliate links.  At least the newbies can get some miles.

sunshine

 

Sorry.  I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom.  I think the Chase denial just got to me.  Just last month I went through all the trouble of opening a new checking account with Chase and giving up a 20 year relationship with my credit union!  Chase offered me $300 to do this, but that’s beside the point.  I also haven’t completely cut the cord with my credit union and after this mess, I probably won’t.

So let’s see what happens next.  I’m still $10 ahead from my last MS adventure with ordering American Express gift cards.  (Oh yeah…you know the portals stopped paying out cash back, right?) So I think I will buy a couple Visa Gift Cards with my Chase Sapphire and load them to RedBird.  That will give me 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points.  I need all I can get to transfer to United!  After that…who knows.  If I decide to apply for some different cards in the next couple weeks, I will let you know.

 

My “Last Hurrah” with Club Carlson – Plus a Mini AOR

Ahhhh….Club Carlson.  I have only had your credit card for 1 year now and in the beginning you were full of promises and Bonus Nights.

But now? Now you are like a cheating lover who has punched me in the heart and destroyed my faith in all hotel loyalty programs.

Too dramatic? Yeah.  Maybe.  But the past couple weeks I have been seriously stressed out by the looming devaluation of the Club Carlson Rewards Program.

It is crazy easy to earn Club Carlson points without ever staying in one of their properties.  You earn 5 points per dollar spent and they offer an 85,000 point sign up bonus for their Premier Rewards Visa Card.  After your sign up and initial spend, you’ve got a cool 97,500 points to redeem.  Factor in the Bonus Nights (R.I.P.) and you could spend 4 nights in a 4-star European hotel for just $75.  (that is the annual fee that is not waived for the first year)

Granted, their US properties are not the greatest (with a few exceptions) but many of their European properties are quite nice.

As you all know by now, the Bonus Night perk went away on June 1, 2015.  Between Matthew and myself we had about 350,000 Club Carlson points that would be worth half as much after June 1. (it was 337,000 but Matthew stayed at a Radisson on business and earned more points)  And to add insult to injury, they were also making a bunch of Category changes on June 1, with most properties moving UP a category.

I spent the last 2 weeks of May trying to decide what speculative bookings to make, hoping I would be able to make them all work.

What I Did

I am planning a trip to Australia in June 2016.  That much, I know.  I do not really know the exact dates, but I have a general idea of when I would like to go and how long I would like to stay.  I also know that I would like to end my trip in (and fly home from) Sydney.  So I took a big gamble and booked 4 nights at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney.  I used 50,000 miles from my account and 50,000 miles from Matthew’s account.

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Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney

It’s a beautiful 5 star hotel within walking distance of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the view of some kind of  futuristic looking Opera House.

Now all I have to do is hope I can secure 3 business class seats home on Virgin Australia using Delta miles when the schedule opens up in mid July!  Of course I also have to hope that I can secure 3 business class seats on Cathay Pacific using American miles to even get there in the first place!   Hopefully all the planets align and the dates I want/need will be available.

Next up – Spring Break 2016.  This was a tough one, but yet a very easy one at the same time.  I had tossed about the idea of going to Cancun to visit Chichen Itza.  I also considered Peru and Machu Picchu.  Some kind of Mayan phase I was in, I guess.  I had also seriously considered Egypt.  Parker is fascinated with Egypt right now and has had an Egyptian themed birthday for the past 2 years! But Egypt is so hard to get to! (read: it costs more miles than I am willing to spend) I could not find what I thought was a reasonable redemption to get us to Egypt so I put it back on the shelf for a while.

I asked Parker where he would like to go for Spring Break next year (other than Egypt) and, without hesitation, he said, “Paris”.  Done and done.  You really do not have to ask me twice to go to Paris.  I am going for 2 days in October of this year, but that’s ok.

paris

So.  I booked 4 nights at the Radisson Blu Paris Champs Elysees.  50,000 points for 2 nights from each of our accounts.  Now this redemption worries me just a little bit.  The 50,000 point redemption is for a “Deluxe Room” which has one queen size bed.  The 3 of us cannot really sleep comfortably in one queen bed.  With each of us having Gold Status (by renewing the Visa card for another year) I am hoping we will be upgraded to a Business Class room with a king bed or a room that will accommodate a rollaway bed.  It’s a gamble and I know that upgrades are never a sure thing.  I could have redeemed 105,000 points for the Business Class room.  But you know I would never do that.

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Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees Paris

My original plan was to book 6 nights at the Champs Elysees, but as luck would have it, they did not have availability for 2 nights in the middle of my stay.  My solution was to spend 2 nights at Disneyland Paris.  (Euro Disney?) At 7, I don’t think Parker will have outgrown it yet.

Using 50,000 points from Matthew’s account, I booked 2 nights at the Radisson Blu Disneyland Paris.  I’m not sure what to expect of Disneyland Paris, but I do not expect an American experience.

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Radisson Blu Disneyland Paris

Matthew and I are huge geeks.  Especially when it comes to Halloween.  One of our favorite Halloween attractions is Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, FL.

My favorite time to go is early October, but I going to Romania with my paranormal team in early October.  I also have lots of things planned for later in October so my only option for Halloween Horror Nights was the last weekend in September.  I do not have any flights booked yet (I am hoping for a deal on Frontier) so I took a chance and made a speculative booking at the Country Inn and Suites Orlando Universal.  I used 28,000 points from Matthew’s account for 2 nights.

I also made a speculative booking at Country Inn and Suites Sandusky OH over the 4th of July 2016.  Matthew’s birthday is July 4 and in the past we have gone to amusement parks for his birthday (see above statement about being geeks), so why not next year? Parker has never been to Cedar Point and he is big enough for almost all the rides. Another 28,000 points from Matthew’s account for those 2 nights.

As of May 31, I was left with about 15,0oo points in my account and Matthew had about 30,000.  I could not let them go to waste!

We love California and have gone every year for the past 10 or more years.  Since I will likely buy a Platinum Cedar Fair pass next year (to go to Cedar Point on the 4th of July), if we went to California we could go to Knott’s Berry Farm.  And of course Disneyland.  I found the Radisson Suites Hotel Buena Park which is walking distance to Knott’s Berry Farm.  Big problem though! The Radisson Buena Park was 38,000 points.  Neither of us had enough points.  Club Carlson will allow Gold Elite members to transfer points to another member’s account by calling their Customer Service Center.  The Customer Service Center is closed on weekends and the reservation agents can’t (or won’t) do it.  Remember, the Bonus Night was going away on Monday, June 1.

At this point I was determined not to lose that point redemption and went so far as to install Google Voice on my phone and call the Club Carlson Australian Customer Service Center!  I waited on hold for 18 minutes (and 36 cents) before my call was answered by their Dallas TX reservation center.  What?  Apparently the Australian Service Center was getting so many calls, they were being routed back to the US.  The lady on the line wanted to know why they were getting so many calls about transferring points.  (Really?) I told her I was actually calling Australia to talk to Customer Service and the call was routed back to her.  She said Customer Service was closed on weekends and she could not understand that it was actually Monday morning already in Australia and why in the world would I call Australia??? I hung up before wasting another 2 cents.

I woke up Monday morning, sad that I lost out on one last Bonus Night award redemption.  But wait…what’s this? Notifications on my computer that Bonus Night bookings were still going through! I hopped on the phone and had points transferred from my account to Matthew’s.  As fast as I could, I logged on to the Club Carlson site to book the Radisson Suites Buena Park.  Score! And guess what else? The Radisson Suites Buena Park actually moved DOWN a category on June 1.  So not only did I get the Bonus Night, I also saved 10,000 points!

As a side note, the Radisson Blu Paris Disneyland also moved down a category and was now 6,000 points less than what I booked it for.  I thought about canceling my reservation and rebooking at the lower rate but either my computer or the Club Carlson website was acting funky and I was afraid of losing it completely.  In my opinion, it was not worth it to potentially lose 38,000 points for the sake of maybe saving 6,000.

So…my Club Carlson Tally:

4 nights Radisson Blu Paris Champs Elysees – 100,000

2 nights Radisson Blu Paris Disneyland – 50,000

4 nights Radisson Blu Park Plaza Sydney – 100,000

2 nights Country Inn and Suites Orlando – 28,000

2 nights Country Inn and Suites Sandusky OH  – 28,000

2 nights Radisson Suites Buena Park CA – 28,000

We each have just over 10,000 points left in our accounts.  Hopefully we will be able to find some use for them in the next year or two.

Mini App – O – Rama

Because I feel like I am not doing anything if I am not actively earning miles and points, and because I just finished the minimum spend on Matthew’s most recent AOR,  I decided to do one for myself.

I don’t feel like making one of my little charts, so I will just tell you what I did.

1. Citibank AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard.  I will earn 50,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.  $0 annual fee for the first year.

  • Reason: you can NEVER have enough AA miles! I am using a big chunk for Cathay Pacific business class to Australia and I want to make sure I have some in the bank.

2. Bank of America Alaska Airlines Signature VISA.  I will earn 25,000 Alaska Airlines miles just for signing up.  No minimum spend required.  $75 annual fee is not waived for the first year.

  • Reason: This is not the greatest sign-up bonus but I am going to start stockpiling Alaska miles to use to get to Fiji in the next 2 years.  As of now, Alaska BOA cards are highly churnable.

3. Barclay’s Frontier Mastercard.  40,000 Frontier miles after spending $500 in the first 3 months. $69 annual fee is not waived for the first year.

  • Reason: My first thought was to use Frontier miles to get to Orlando in September for Halloween Horror Nights.  But it will depend on the fare.  If I can get a good value for the redemption, I will use the miles.  If not, I will pay cash.  I can still use the miles for a ski trip I plan to plan (“plan to plan”, I like that!) for January 2016.

I am getting 115,000 airline miles for $144.  Not the biggest or the cheapest AOR I have ever done, but I have a somewhat immediate need for these miles.

So that’s it for now! I am also working on a post about my recent Manufactured Spending experience.  Hopefully I will have that one up in the next couple days.

I know I don’t have a huge following, but for the handful of people who do read my blog – I appreciate it! Maybe if I would write more…..

Club Carlson Stress

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I’m sure everybody has heard by now – Club Carlson (VISA) is doing away with their “Bonus Night” perk beginning on June 1.

The Bonus Night is being replaced by a certificate for 1 free night at any US Club Carlson hotel, if you spend $10,000 in a calendar year.   The free night certificate would be more valuable to most people if it could be used outside the US.  The majority of the Club Carlson hotels within the US are nothing to write home about.  (with the exception of a few top tier hotels in major cities)  I stayed at a Country Inn & Suites in Orlando during Spring Break.  It was perfectly fine for us as it offered free breakfast and it was clean.  What more do you need when you are spending all day at the parks anyway?

At this moment I have my recent US Bank Club Carlson VISA bill sitting on the desk in front of me.  I have until June 1 (conveniently) to decide whether or not to pay the $75 annual fee to renew the card.  I am not sure I would spend $10,000 on the card in a year.  With Manufactured Spending getting more difficult, spending $10,000 isn’t so easy any more.  But if you did manage to do it, the $10,000 would not only give you the free night certificate, but also 50,000 points!

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They will give me 40,000 points for renewing and  40,000 points could give me 1 free night at a Category 4 hotel.  Or 4 nights at a Category 1 hotel in Cookeville, TN or Tulsa OK! Incidentally there is a very nice looking Radisson Blu in El Quseir Egypt which is a Category 1.  It is located directly on the Red Sea, just east of Luxor with its own dive center.  If only it were easier to get to Egypt!

So Why Am I Stressed?

Because.  Because between Matthew and myself we have 337,042 Club Carlson points.  (377.042 if I renew)  I am the type of person who absolutely, positively has to get the most bang for my buck.  Just because it’s “free” doesn’t mean I will do it.  Many people will pay 32,500 or 37,500 miles for a roundtrip domestic airline ticket that should only be 25,000 miles.  Roundtrip tickets have been 25,000 miles for years! It has only been recently that all of these “levels” were introduced.  It doesn’t matter if those miles cost me $0.  I am not giving them more than 25,000 miles for a roundtrip domestic ticket.  I’m just not.

Go ahead.  Call me crazy.

So, Club Carlson eliminating the Bonus Night and basically cutting the value of my points in half has me scrambling to redeem all my points, with the best possible value, before May 31.  Or May 28, just to be safe.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I am planning a trip to Australia in June 2016.

There are all of 3 Club Carlson hotels in Australia.  2 in Sydney and 1 in Melbourne.  (There seems to be a lack of chain/award hotels in Australia in general).  I would be perfectly happy to spend 4 nights at the Radisson Blu Sydney (2 nights from my account and 2 nights from Matthew’s) but the problem is that I have no idea on what nights I will actually be in Sydney.  I won’t be able to book my airfare until mid-July and of course that will be too late to book the Bonus Night at the Radisson.

I think my best bet is to plan the trip, book the Radisson and hope that I can get business class awards on the dates I want.  If not, the room will end up costing 200,000 points for 4 nights, instead of 100,000.

And I’ll still have 137,042 left.

 

 

April 2015 (Mini) App-O-Rama

It’s been awhile since I have posted (or done) one of these.  Gone are the days of 6 apps in one day.  With the demise of amazon payments, Vanilla Reloads and Serve CC loads, I’m not sure I could do $20,000 worth of spending in 3 months.  Maybe.  But let’s see if I can get through this $10,000 in 3 months.

Matthew Apr 15 AORThis AOR was all for Matthew.  He only had 5 cards open in his name, which is not good for the credit score.  Before this AOR, his FICO score was 791.  I will be curious to see if it goes up in the next few months with $57,000 of available credit added.

I chose the Citi AA card because the 50,000 mile sign up bonus is pretty good and the 10% back on redeemed miles will be great when we redeem  his miles for Australia next year. Although, there is a 10,000 mile limit on that benefit, so I will probably get this card as well and redeem some of the miles for the trip from my account.

Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card to have.  Ultimate Rewards points are infinitely valuable as they can be transferred to Hyatt and United.  My goal is to get a few United cards from Chase in the next year, combined with these Ultimate Rewards points and possibly go back to Thailand or maybe Fiji.  In business class this time!

The Capital One Venture card is often overlooked in the Miles and Points community.  I’m not sure why.  I had the card for several years and got in on an awesome sign-up bonus they had.  They were offering to match the miles you currently had in another program, up to 100,000 miles.  I had 100,000 miles in my Delta account so I earned 100,000 Capital One points.  At 2 points per dollar spent, I quickly had 150,000 points in my account which I used to buy United miles for one of our Thailand tickets last year.  My plan with the card this time is to use it for car rentals or other travel expenses that are not covered with airline or hotel miles.  Using their “Purchase Eraser” makes it easy to “erase” all sorts of travel expenses.

Spring Break 2016

Spring Break 2015 is in the books.  Disney was exhausting, but fun.  I am now working on Spring Break 2016.  With the recent devaluation of the Club Carlson program (discontinuing the bonus night) I feel the need to burn the 300,000 points we have.  So I am considering the Radisson Resort in Aruba.  Southwest flies to Aruba, so that is an added bonus with the Companion Pass.  Or the Radisson Blu Resort in Sharm el Sheikh Egypt.  Parker is fascinated with Egypt and my plan would be to spend a day or two in Cairo at Le Meridien Pyramids to see the pyramids and then head down to the Red Sea for some diving and R&R.

I have some planning to do!

Happy Travels!

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.

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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.

khaolak15

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!

khaolak14

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!

 

 

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.

ThorsHammer_BryceCanyon

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!

 

I’m Still Here, Just Quiet

I have taken a short break from Manufactured Spending (and apparently from blogging as well).  I wanted to let my money “shake out” and see if I was still in the black when it landed.

ibank

….this is not my account…..

I have an interesting system for keeping track of my MS in iBank.  If you are familiar with iBank, you know you can keep track of multiple accounts in the register.  In my iBank register I have my “Checking”, 2 “Savings” and then 23 credit card accounts.  Yeah…it’s a lot to keep track of.  But I have a system!  When I make a purchase I enter it into both the “Checking” account and the “Credit Card” account.  For example, if I go to Target and buy $25.68 worth of Halloween candy (just sayin’) using my Citi Executive 2 (I have 3 of them),  I will come home and enter $25.68 as a WITHDRAWAL in my checking account in iBank.  On the “Payee” line I will enter “Exec 2”, which is my code for that particular card.  I have codes for every card that differentiate if they are mine or my husband’s and what version of the card they are.

Then I will go to the “Exec 2” account in iBank and list Target as the payee and list the amount as a WITHDRAWAL.

When my Citi Executive 2 bill comes, I go through my iBank Checking account and confirm the withdrawals with “Exec 2” as the payee and then I DELETE them from the Checking account register.  I then go through the Exec 2 account and “clear” all the charges that appear on the bills.  Once that is done, I deduct the total amount of the bill in my Checking account as a Payment to “Citi Exec 2” and ADD the total amount of the bill as a “Deposit” in the “Exec 2” iBank account.

And now its even.

But can  you see where this is going in regard to what iBank thinks is my total net worth?

At the bottom of the iBank screen is a “Summary” of your net worth.  When I decided to take a break, mine said this:

Money you have:     $2,432.22

Money you owe:      $7,247.33

Total:      ($4,815.11)

Yikes!  Yet when I logged into my Credit Union checking account, it showed I had about $13,000 in there!

I decided it was time to take a break, pay off all the bills and see where I stood financially.  I’m happy to report that all is well.  All the credit card bills are paid off and I am still a few thousand in the black.  Shwew!

Now that the Cashback portals are back to offering payouts on American Express gift cards, I may get back into it.  The payouts aren’t great right now, 1.5%, but it’s better than nothing.  My property tax bill is due at the end of this month.  I hate to pay out a couple thousand dollars and not earn miles for it!  But my Bluebird account is empty so I would have to make several trips to Walmart in the next week or so to get enough in there to pay the bill.  And you know how I hate going to Walmart!

My Blogging Break

I got a bit disillusioned with the whole Miles and Points blogging thing when I noticed a trend among the “Big Boy” blogs.  (TPG, MMS, MP, FTG…you know the ones)  I mean, how many times and in how many different ways can they push Chase cards? I know it’s their bread & butter, but come on!  Is that what it takes to be successful in this world?  I wanted to share my experiences of free travel with a child! Not pound you on the head with a Chase Ink! But yet, that’s what these guys are doing.  And they are wildly successful (in this limited world).

You know the Miles and Points blogs I enjoy the most? And the ones that I think offer the best information?  Travel is Free and Hack My Trip.  I strongly suggest checking them out.  They focus more on how to travel for free, rather than shoving credit card links down your throat.

I still want you to read my blog, of course.  And I am going to work harder at writing and sharing my experiences with you.  I still love to travel and I still love to travel for free! We just got back from a fabulous week at Beaches Turks and Caicos!  There is nothing free (or even cheap) about Beaches!  It’s a splurge that I feel is worth every penny!

Trip report coming soon! Promise!

So…thanks for coming back and checking out my post.  Tell me…how do you keep track of your manufactured spending?  Do you have an easier, less complicated method than I do?  I’d love to hear about it!

Happy Travels!

New SPG Game!

Just a quick post to let you know about a new Starwood Preferred Guest online game.  It’s called Tap Into Luxury, and you can win free hotel nights, SPG points, iTunes gift cards or Ticketmaster ConcertCash.

SPG offered a similar game last year.  It’s easy to do and only takes a couple minutes of your time each day.  Totally worth it, in my opinion, to possibly win a free night stay!

starwood-preferred-guest

You can spin twice each day, and even if you don’t win, you will be entered into the Grand Prize drawing for 250,000 SPG points! (I would LOVE to win that!)

The daily prizes offered are:

  • One night at a participating Category 1-5 hotel (195 available)
  • 500, 1,000 or 5,000 Starpoints (390 available)
  • $50 iTunes Gift Card (156 available)
  • $50 Ticketmaster Concert Cash (975 available)

They have a lot of Ticketmaster Concert Cash available.  Probably not the best prize because you will most likely end up spending additional money on that one.

The game runs until Sept 30, 2014.  Good luck! And let me know if you win!

 

 

Possible Regret and A Couple Good Bonuses

I hope I don’t regret this

Until midnight last night, you could transfer SPG points to American Airlines or US Airways and receive a 20% bonus.  This was on top of the 25% bonus you already get for transferring SPG points to airlines.  I have just over 40,000 points, so I could have turned those into 58,000 AAdvantage miles.  (or Dividend Miles)

Conventional Wisdom in this game tells you not to transfer miles unless you have immediate plans to use them.  I don’t.  Plus I am pretty flush with AAdvantage Miles and Dividend Miles right now thanks to 3 Citi Executive cards and Matthew’s recent bump in business travel.  I have more than enough for my planned trip to Australia (in BUSINESS class) in 2016.  But this was a heck of an offer to pass up and one that may not return for some time.

I have lots of hotel points in other programs, so I don’t necessarily NEED SPG points for hotels; although you can sometimes find some Great Redemptions.

I would also probably not transfer the points to any other airline.  Except maybe Delta if I needed some points to redeem some of their ridiculously over-priced awards.

Too late now to do anything about it.  It’s just something I decided to think about this morning.  I will probably end up using my SPG points to stay at the Westin in Whistler, which is why I got the card in the first place.

westinwhistler

The Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler

Rooms at the Westin Whistler are 16,000 SPG points per night during Christmas break and most of ski season, but you can find rooms for 9,000 points per night in late ski season.  As long as I have my SPG American Express card open, I will get the 5th night free when I book 4 on points.  So, I still need to earn 24,000 points to get enough points.  SPG points aren’t easy to earn, but if I concentrate some MS on the card over the next year, I should be able to do it.  (then I will watch for the inevitable devaluation)

A Couple Good Credit Card Sign Up Bonuses

Right now, Chase is offering the United Explorer card with an increased sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 in 3 months.  I would love to get this one, but Matthew and I just canceled our previous United Explorer cards in July of 2013.  The wait time for churning Chase cards is generally 24 months.  So hopefully next summer they will offer a similar bonus.  But if you have not had a Chase United Explorer card in the past 2 years-go for it!

Chase is also offering the Marriott Rewards Premier VISA card with an increased sign up bonus of 70,000 points PLUS 1 Free night at a category 1-4 hotel after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months.

Matthew and I will definitely be signing up for the Marriott card.  We both just canceled the basic Chase Marriott Rewards card, but this Premier card is a different product so we are eligible for the sign-up bonus even though it has not been 24 months.

Incidentally, I do not earn any commissions if you use the links above.  Those are just public links that I copied and pasted.

Happy Travels!

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.

decision-making-scaled500

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)

parkerinandout

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…..