AAdvantage Aviator Card Promo – Will I Make It?

In late November, I received an email from Barclaycard to register for a promotion offering 30,000 miles for spending $2,500 each month on my AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard.  The promo runs from December 2015 until May 2016.  So essentially I would earn 45,000 miles after adding the 2,500 a month for 6 months.

promo

$2,500 is a lot to spend each month without doing any Manufactured Spending.  At least, for me, it is a lot to spend each month!

I got through December pretty easily thanks to a couple VISA GC purchases at Walmart.

And then this happened.

BB

Ahhhh that dreaded e-mail that we all knew was coming.  Don’t say you didn’t know.  This could not go on forever.  Eventually AMEX would wise up and realize they were losing money.

I got that e-mail on January 8 and I’m totally kicking myself for not buying a gift card the first week of January.  But I have always been very conservative in this hobby.  I don’t buy $40K worth of gift cards every month!  So my plan was to wait until the end of each month and see how short I was.  If I was within $1,000 of the $2,500 (likely) I would buy a couple gift cards to make up the difference.  That’s pretty much what I have always done.  I usually bought $1,000-$1,500 a month and paid my mortgage with it.  I rarely used Bluebird to pay off the credit card I used to buy the gift cards.  I think I did that once.  And I didn’t pay the whole balance.  I would usually pay $378.55 or some other odd amount.

So again. I am really surprised that I was shut down by Bluebird.  I have heard that some people are still going at it.  I’m not sure how they managed to stay under the radar, but at this point, I hope they ride it hard.  I know I would.

Yesterday I got this e-mail from Barclaycard.

aacard

That’s very nice.  I was wondering how (if) they were going to keep track of the monthly spending for this promo.  I WISH they had some kind of calculator on their web page so you could track your monthly purchases.  You can look up your month to date purchases, but you have to whip out the calculator to get the total.

According to my calculations, I am at $1829.26 for the month of January.  And that is with a large $1,000 purchase that I would not normally make.  So in reality I have only spent $800 so far this month.  That is probably about average for us, unless it’s Christmas time, someone’s birthday or we are on a trip.   So at $1829 for this month, I am $670 short.  I don’t see myself spending that much in the next week.  Maybe another $100-200.

Unless I buy a gift card.

I’ve been thinking about this.  People are still buying the Visa GC and then buying money orders.  I have only done that once, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.  But I might give it another try.  Worst case, I am stuck with a $500 gift card that I will have to liquidate by regular spend.  And at that point it won’t matter because I will not be able to complete this promotion.

Do you still do any manufactured spending?  Do you think the end is nigh?

My Recent MS Adventures

MS Adventures? Or Misadventures?

By now, I’m sure you have seen everybody’s e-mail from Target that explains what you can and cannot feed your RedBird with.  I will throw mine in here, just in case it looks different from every other blogger’s e-mail.

targetemail

This isn’t really new.  I’m sure since they stopped allowing credit card loads on May 6, that many people have had success loading the “old fashioned” way with gift cards purchased from other sources.

Here is what I have done over the past two months.  Hold onto your hats! You know I’m a big spender! <sarcasm>

On April 8 and April 13 I purchased two $2,000 American Express gift cards and loaded them directly to my RedBird account.  I paid $12.90 for fees and shipping  for each card, but I earned $60 cash back.  (which should pay out at the end of this month) So I was ahead with $34.20 in my pocket.  And $4,000 in my RedBird.

Between mid-April and May 6, I loaded $7,300 via direct credit card loads onto my account and Matthew’s.  That sure was fun while it lasted.

After May 6, I did not do any MS.  I didn’t like the hassle of going to Wal-Mart and if I was going to go to Walmart, I would rather just load up there with Kate.  But I can no longer use Kate since I canceled my Bluebird and Serve accounts.

Then, I got bored.

I really did not like just sitting here and not doing anything to actively earn miles and points.  So on May 27, I decided to jump back in.  I tested the waters at Walmart.

walmart
It had been awhile since I had purchased a gift card at Walmart.  I was nervous that things had changed.  I have had Walmart cashiers bark at me “cash or debit only” when I start to swipe my credit card.  I just always smile and say, “It’s ok” and then it goes through.

 

The gift card rack looked different now.  There were many more options of card designs to choose from.  But having been burned in the past, I stuck with the “Happy Birthday” card that has always worked for me.

gc

I really liked the stork one, but I was afraid to try it.

I have learned a few things over the years about buying gift cards at Walmart.  Never go to the cigarette lane.  That is usually where the Customer Service Managers hang out, en masse, to go over whatever it is Walmart CSMs have to discuss.  Also avoid older ladies and the 10 item or less express lane.  My plan is to always look for a young person and preferably a guy.  They tend to care the least.  I found just who I was looking for in Jacob in lane 7.  I don’t think he said a word to me other than “how much” when I handed him the gift card.  He was too busy trying to sneak glances at his phone and flirt with the girl in lane 10.  I was in and out in about 5 minutes.  No muss, no fuss.

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I hope Jacob works at Walmart for a long time. I wish I knew his schedule.

That gift card has a fee of $4.94 so now I am only ahead by $29.26

I then drove directly to Target to load the gift card to my RedBird.  Again, I was nervous because I wasn’t sure if this would work.  But it worked like a charm.  In and out.

target

Well, that’s blurry

The next day, Matthew and I drove to Indianapolis to see the Weird Al concert.  Best Concert Ever, by the way.  So good in fact, we are going to see him again next week in Dayton.  And taking Parker!

I have always heard that the MS opportunities in Indiana are abundant.  They have Simon Malls, which have lower fees on their gift cards than Walmart.  I have also heard it is still possible to buy Vanilla Reloads with credit cards!  How sweet!

On our way to the concert we stopped at the very nice Circle Centre mall in downtown Indy.  We ate dinner and then went to the customer service kiosk to buy a Simon Mall gift card.  The old lady working there was nice enough (at first), but very slow and somewhat suspicious of why we were buying such a large denomination gift card with a credit card.  We bought one $500 gift card charged to Matthew’s US Airways card.  There was a $3.95 fee so now I am only ahead by $25.31.

We walked around for about 30 minutes and as we were about to pass the kiosk again on our way out, I decided to buy another gift card using my Citi AA Mastercard.

When I approached the kiosk and told the lady I wanted to buy another gift card, she gave me a very accusatory look and asked, “Why?”  Yikes.  Because I am a consumer and it is my right to purchase whatever I want.  I had to stand firm.  I am not doing anything wrong.  I was holding my credit card in my hand.  She took it from me and started digging through her receipts to find Matthew’s receipt.  I asked what she was doing.  She said she was looking to see if it was the same card.  What? I told her it was not, and even if it was, why does that matter?

Let’s write the rest of this out like a one act play, shall we?

Lady: “How much do you want to buy?”

Me: “$500”

Lady: “No.  I’m not selling you one for $500.”

Me: “What are you talking about? I want to buy a $500 gift card. If my credit card is declined, you can refuse the sale, but you can’t refuse to sell me something that I am capable of paying for.”

Lady: “Yes I can.  I’m not selling you one for the same amount that he bought.  I can’t do it.”

This is getting scary now.  I was waiting for her to push the secret security button.

Me: “Of course you can. You just won’t”

Lady: “That’s right. I won’t.”

Wow.  Matthew is getting jittery now.

Matthew: “What about $499”

Lady: “No.  I won’t do that either. It’s not allowed.”

Me: “This is crazy.  You are just making stuff up.”

Matthew kicks my foot and gives me a look like “you better watch it”

Since when do you have to haggle to buy a gift card? This is insane!

Me: “Why are you doing this?”

Lady: “Because he just bought one”

Me: “So.  If we had walked up here and pretended like we weren’t together, you would have never known.”

Matthew: “OK  what about $495”

Lady: “No. I would feel more comfortable doing $450.”

Me: “Comfortable? This makes no sense whatsoever.”

Lady: “I’m not selling another one to you for $500”

Me: “Why?”

Lady: “Because I can’t”

Matthew: “$495”

This went back and forth for a while longer, but you don’t need to read all the “yes/no” stuff.

Finally I just said, “Just do $450 and let’s get this over with.”

simon

I had to turn around and snap a picture of the kiosk from hell.

This was the worst gift card buying experience of my life.  Talk about feeling like a criminal.

But I did get my $450 gift card with a $3.95 fee so I am now ahead by $21.36.  I loaded both Simon Mall gift cards to my RedBird with no problem.

A Simon Mall In Another Universe

Matthew was in Oklahoma City on a business trip this week.  There is a Simon Mall there where he has purchased gift cards in the past.  Yesterday he bought two $500 gift cards in the same transaction, with no issues.  $7.90 in fees for both cards so my bottom line is $13.46 in my pocket after all my gift card purchases.

Today, I took those two gift cards to Target to load to my RedBird.  I did the first $500 load with no questions asked.  I told her I wanted to do another one and she started the transaction and she said “Oh I forgot to look at the card you used” I said “Oh for the last four digits?” (which is what they used to do for credit card loads) and she said, “No, to make sure the names matched.” I was not prepared for this and should have had my credit union debit card on standby for such an issue.  But the gift card was still right there in my hand so I just showed it to her.  That transaction had already cleared so there was nothing she could do, but she could have denied the 2nd one if she felt something was wrong.  Although, really…why should they care?  She looked at it and said “Oh it’s a gift card. Ok” and continued to ring the 2nd transaction.

You can order personalized Simon Mall Visa Gift Cards via giftcardmall.com, but you have to pay a shipping fee which brings your total in fees to $7.94.

Taking Time Off

So now I have enough in my RedBird to pay my July mortgage and a couple bills so I am going to take a short break from MS.  Maybe the next time Top Cash Back offers over 2% on American Express Gift Cards I will buy a couple and start again.  Earning the cash back to cover the VISA fees is the only way this MS hobby makes sense now.

I have a $3,000 spending requirement on the new Citi AA card I just got.  But I don’t usually have a problem spending $3,000 in 3 months without MS.

Have you had any MS Adventures lately?

 

Planning 2016 Travel and Other Aggravations

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As you have probably heard, the Buzz of the day is that beginning tomorrow (May 6) you can no longer load the Target Prepaid REDcard (aka RedBird) with credit cards.  This is (as of now) a basically unsubstantiated rumor, but I’m sure there will be long lines at many Target CS desks tonight!

This makes me very sad as I have only had my RedBird for a couple months and Matthew just got his last month!  I am very conservative with Manufactured Spending, so I really haven’t done much.  I was going to start amping it up and was even going to write a post about it.  But, for right now we just have to wait and see what happens tomorrow.  Hopefully the rumor is not true.

While I’m here, I will tell you my MAJOR MS activity in April 2015.  I’m not a $50k per month MS monster (I do believe they are the ones that ruin it for the rest of us), but here’s what I did.

I purchased $4,000 in American Express Gift Cards (AGC) with my American Express SPG card.  I paid $25.80 in fees but earned $60 in cash back, so I came out ahead by $34.20.  I loaded those cards to the RedBird throughout the month.  Usually in $1,000 increments.

I also did direct credit card loads of $2250 using AA cards and the old US Air card.  WooHoo!  Big spender! Like I said, I was going to step up my game in May!

But for all my troubles I earned 4,000 SPG points and 2,250 AA miles. (actually I may have earned more AA points with the bonus points promotion that is currently running)  And $34 in cash.

Today only, there is a 2.25% cash back offer on AGC via TopCashBack.  I was about to pull the trigger on a couple today until the other shoe dropped on the RedBird.  I still might do it though.  With cash back, even if I have to pay fees to turn around and buy VISA GC with them, I still come out ahead.

Bottom line for me – if the RedBirds die tomorrow, I will probably still keep them.  Or maybe cancel one and go back to Serve with the other.  We should still be able to load both with VISA GC. (I hope!)

2016 Travel

Ahhhh…it’s that time.  Time to think about next year’s travel plans.  I know where I want to go, and when but I’m having trouble making it work.

Dive-sites

 

My son wants to go to Egypt for Spring Break.  He wants to see the Pyramids and Matthew and I want to dive the Red Sea.

I thought this would be easy to accomplish because prices in Egypt are pretty low right now.  Tourism has fallen off by an estimated 95% since the turmoil and civic unrest of the past few years.  The Red Sea resorts are doing OK, but the historical areas in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan are suffering.  So yeah, I thought it would be cheap and easy.  Not so much.

Have you ever tried to GET to Egypt?  Oh my.  The term “BFE” that we used to say as teenagers ain’t for nothing!

I could fly on Delta for 80,000 miles and $115 per ticket.  But I did not really want to burn up my Delta miles, because I wanted to use those for Australia (which I will talk about in a minute).

I was hoping to use some AA miles to get us to Egypt.  AA codes Egypt as “Middle East” , even though it is  in Africa. (I used to know a Delta agent who thought Egypt was in Europe.  But, I digress) AA also uses British Airways to get to Cairo.  So you know what that means.  Fuel Surcharges.  It would cost me 90,000 miles and $463 Per Ticket to fly from CVG to Cairo.  Yikes!

Then I thought of something else.  Spring Break is “off peak” to Europe on AA.  So I could use 40,000 AA miles to fly RT to London and then 20,000 Avios to fly RT from London to Cairo.  Of course, there are fuel surcharges which would be about $250 per ticket. That still hurts.  But it would only be a total of 60,000 miles per ticket and a total of $750 in cash.  Plus I would have to pay cash for the flights from Cairo to Sharm el Sheikh.

This Egypt trip is getting expensive and complicated.

Australia 2016

Another hassle.  Alaska Airlines has some great partners and low redemption rates.  Cathay Pacific, Qantas and even Fiji Airways can get me to Australia from LAX using Alaska miles.  In coach.  Trying to find availability for 3 business class seats is not looking good.  I have checked many dates throughout the year and nothing comes up in business class. Sometimes not even for 1 ticket.  I have not checked Cathay Pacific though, because you have to call them.

I will likely fly coach to Europe in the future.  But not over the Pacific.  No.  Never again.  Been there, done that.  It was horrible.

You know what does show availability for 3 tickets in business class on several dates throughout the year?  Virgin Australia using Delta SkyMiles.  I would gladly do that roundtrip , but sadly I do not have the 480,000 SkyMiles needed.  I have about 375,000 right now.  By doing some heavy MS and/or transferring some SPG points to Delta, I could probably manage 5 awards (at 80,000 each).  That would mean either Matthew or I would have to take a different flight on the outbound or return.  Not ideal, but we could do it as a last resort.

Trying to figure out which programs to use to make these two big trips happen is proving to be quite stressful.

And finally the last trip I hope to take in 2016 is a 4 or 5 night stay at Beaches Turks and Caicos over fall break.  That is one of our favorite places in the entire world.  October is again “off peak” on the AA charts, so it’s only 25,000 miles per ticket.

Club Carlson Devaluation

Between Matthew and myself, we have about 350,000 Club Carlson points.  Somehow, I have to tentatively book all of those before May 31.  Right.  That’s not going to happen.  There are a couple nice Radisson properties in Australia, but I have no idea what dates I will end up traveling on, so I can’t make tentative bookings.  I am assuming if I call back to change the dates, they will take away the bonus night.  That’s what Marriott does.  But I will be sure to clarify that soon.

To add insult to injury, they are raising categories on about 1,000,000 properties beginning June 1.  Interestingly, the property I want to stay at in Egypt is LOWERING from 28,000 points per night to 15,000 points per night.  So if I have to wait until after the Bonus nights go away, it will only cost me another 2,000 points for 2 nights.  But that is certainly not the case for numerous other hotels.

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Radisson Blu Sharm el Sheikh Egypt

So that’s it! That’s all I have for right now.  If you have any suggestions for me regarding Australia or Egypt I would LOVE to hear it.

Happy Travels!

 

 

 

 

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

khaolak1

 

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.

khaolak2

 

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.

khaolak3

 

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.

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!

 

If They Blog About It, It Will Die

How many times has this been true?

I seriously miss the days when travel hacking, credit card churning, manufactured spending was all underground.  There were a few message board sites where people would talk about it using aliases and lots of code words.  Not anymore! Now we scream it from the rooftops in Big Guy Blogs and Frequent Traveler University gatherings.  We tell you how to game the system and rake in millions of miles by doing things the banks probably don’t like.

For years I never talked about it.  I didn’t even tell my family and friends what I was doing.  (mainly because I didn’t want to get lectured about ruining my credit score.  Yeah whatever, Mom) I just always said “I never pay for travel”, with a smile.  I still say that.

Well…I don’t do that.  I won’t.  Which is part of the reason I do not regularly write in this blog.  I will still post about my trips (promise) and give you some tips on travel but I’m not going to be one of those blogs who posts about every Chase sign-up bonus and every airline mileage program devaluation.  (though I reserve the right to complain about such devaluations)

So here is a little known money saving/mileage earning deal going on this month.  Thornton’s gas stations (located only in the midwest with a few scattered in FL)  are offering 20% off third party gift cards to places like amazon.com, iTunes, restaurants, stores etc.  It is not well advertised, but I found out about it through a Big Guy Blog.  I wasn’t even going to blog about it because I wanted to keep it a SECRET! Especially in my area – more for me!

Thornton-20-Gift-CardsIf you have a credit card that earns a category bonus for gas station purchases, you are not only saving money, but earning bonus points.

There are 3 Thornton’s in my general area.  The first one I went to was just about completely wiped out of gift cards and the guy behind the counter told me that he did have amazon gift cards, but someone bought 20 of them the day before and now they are gone.  I bought one $25 Buffalo Wild Wings gift card for $20 and paid with a credit card.

I went to the 2nd Thornton’s and all they had was Bass Pro Shops and iTunes. I’m kicking myself now for not buying the iTunes.

I did not make it to the 3rd Thornton’s until yesterday.  Still no amazon or store cards, but I did select a Darden restaurant card and an iTunes card.  When I got to the register the girl said “I don’t think you can pay for those with a credit card”. I told her I bought some at the Erlanger location with a credit card just a couple days ago.  She tried and the payment was not accepted.  I gave her my bank debit card, but that did not work either.  Another girl came up and said they had “problems” with accepting credit cards for gift card purchases and so it is now their policy not to.

Of course I never have cash, so I had to return the gift cards, put my tail between my legs and leave.  Brought back memories of trying to buy Vanilla Reloads with a credit card at CVS.  Thornton’s did have a big selection of Vanilla Reloads, by the way.  They sat there – taunting me.

So.  The Big Guys post about Thornton’s gift card discount.  People run out in droves to buy them all up.  There are none left and Thornton’s wised up to the credit card game.  (or somebody was buying massive amounts of them with a stolen CC)

If you are interested in saving money, this could still be a good deal for you using cash.  In fact, it IS a good deal for you.  You are still saving $5. I would not go out of my way to do this, but if you have a Thornton’s in your area and they actually have some gift cards left – go for it!

It is still possible, in a roundabout way to pay for them with a credit card.  You load your Bluebird or Serve with a credit card (or gift cards purchased with credit cards) and you can withdraw $100 cash from a Money Pass ATM with no fee and then buy $100 worth of gift cards for $80.  Is it worth your time to run around all those places doing that? I doubt it, but if it’s convenient for you, it’s a good deal.

Bottom line, it’s still a money saver if you pay cash.  Christmas is coming, ya know.

I have slowed down considerably on my Manufactured Spending.  Right now I am only doing enough loads on Serve to cover my mortgage payment each month.  I can load Serve with my credit card from the comfort and warmth of my office chair (shhhhh! don’t tell anybody!). I don’t mind that at all.  It’s free and I don’t have to run to Walmart all the time.

In 2014 I spent $149.49 on gift card fees.  I got into the cash back on American Express gift cards late, so I only earned back $90.50.  That means I spent $58.99 to Manufacture enough Spend to get 795,000 miles and points in 2014.  Was it worth it?  Was it worth it  to spend $59 to get 795,000 miles and points?? Yeah…I think so.  Well…to be fair I should probably account for annual fees I had to pay that were not waived for the first year.  And it gets a little ugly there.  (damn you 3 Citi Executive cards! ) $975.  But still.  Just over $1,000 for 795,000 miles and points?  Sure.  But I am done for a while. I have decided it is just not worth the hassle.

Likely by the end of the year I will apply for a couple cards if they offer good “end of the year” sign up bonuses.  Chase Southwest is a big contender.  They are currently offering 50,000 points per card and they have 4.  Even though I am a bit gun-shy with Business cards, I might give it a go.  I’m also hoping British Airways offers a 100,000 mile sign up bonus at the end of the year as they have done for the past couple years.  I am keen to use Avios for a trip to Ireland.

So that’s all for now.

 

 

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!

Amazon Payments

stoneRIP

 

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

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

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

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

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

How will this change affect your Manufactured Spending techniques?

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

Moral Travel Dilemma

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

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

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

greed

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

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

prague

That’s me in Prague. Thanks JoJo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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