Planning 2016 Travel and Other Aggravations

REDbird_card_image

 

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.

SSHZH_2_pool_978x385-2

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!

 

 

 

 

American Express Serve

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

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

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

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

serve

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

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

serve-1

 

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

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

Happy Travels!