Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Importance of Travel

This is a guest post written by frequent contributor B.Positive.

Studying abroad in Sussex, England, summer of 2009.

Sometimes you have to travel halfway around the world to find yourself.

I just watched a recent video of Gunther Holtrof’s amazing journey to drive with his wife and car, “Otto” to as many countries as possible. He’s traveled more than 500,000 miles and has finally received the opportunity to share is journey when he crossed paths with photographer David Lemke.

(in case the video didn’t publish properly, it is linked here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18910560)

Although the key to keeping costs reasonable was to forgo the two things this blog about (using points to fly around the world and stay in incredible hotels), we all can learn valuable lessons from his life and the places he’s been.

This is a good opportunity for me to share with you readers (all 1 one you!) how important travel is in adding perspective, culture, priceless experiences, and new friends in your life. Traveling to new places, be it on the other side of the world or on the other side of your state, is a good way to learn how others live and make meaning out of their lives. As Gunther says, you don’t realize how much you haven’t seen (and don’t know) until you’ve traveled.

For all of you out there who just graduated high school or are in college, regardless of which school you go to, what major you are, what you think you’ll do with your time in school, I STRONGLY encourage all of you to study abroad. College (or after high school) is the best time to go out and explore and experience a new culture on your own. By meeting people who are completely different from you and seeing how they make sense of the world, it’s helped me and can help you understand who you are and what you have to give to the world. It’s added perspective by helping me challenge my beliefs and assumptions about how the world works. It can help to develop your confidence and independence of living on your own. I’ve asked many friends and people I’ve met throughout my years post-college and I’ve noticed that the biggest regret among all college graduates (generally young 20-somethings) is that they didn’t study abroad. Regardless of all majors, situations, plans students have for spending their college years, studying abroad is one of the easiest and most incredible opportunities that students miss because of their lack of initiative. After my fourth year, I studied for the summer in Sussex, England for credits I didn’t need (as they didn’t offer courses I needed at my level), I still found it to be the most amazing experience that has come to shape my life for the better. It’s given me more opportunities to travel, see new places, and explore the world and myself as a person that I never would’ve had otherwise.

Colleges have great study abroad programs like EAP to help you find a country and school to enroll in a program. Studying abroad with a school helps you travel with other adventurous students and gives you a great opportunity to make new friends and explore the world together. If you don’t know what to do with your college years or don’t have a specific plan, I highly recommend studying abroad as early and often as possible. It’s a great way to open your eyes to what’s out there and to help you discover yourself.

This was just a brief post, but I hope it has some lasting impact on some young reader out there. I’d like to end with the following:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

B.Positive

 

Beginners Guide Part 1: Starting Out – REALLY Know What You Want

So you’ve just entered the points game, and you know enough to know the best way to accrue points quickly is through credit card sign up bonuses. You do a quick search of the most popular travel blogs and you pick Credit Card x, because that’s the one everyone seems to be talking about right now.

This seems like a pretty good strategy, and it definitely could be, but isn’t necessarily the best strategy. But wait…how do you know what the best strategy is? I’m glad you asked!

Basically, there is no one strategy. Yes it sounds cliche, but it happens to be true. Particularly with something as personal as travel plans, everyone has their own goals in terms of what they want to do. Maybe you want to have an amazing honeymoon next year and want to do an exotic beach location. Maybe you want to do a 3 week tour of Europe and hit up all the popular spots. Maybe you want to go visit your family back in India, or China, or Australia. Maybe your in-laws live in Canada, and you fly out there twice a year to keep the spouse happy. Literally endless possibilities for where you want your points to take you.

There is no question, then, that step one must be to know what you want. Knowing that you want a lot of points isn’t good enough. Knowing you want to be able to travel is getting closer, but still not good enough. Unfortunately, I’m a very good example of the latter scenario, which I quickly learned from and is a mistake I hope that no one else makes.

When I was first told about the existence of this points and travel blogging world, I was absolutely amazed. I was reading amazing blog posts about one guy who just flew to Singapore in Business Class and is staying at a super expensive hotel and was upgraded to a suite, and all using points and a few dollars in taxes. The next guy flew first class to Bora Bora to stay five nights in an over-water room that routinely costs $1000 a night, and of course all on points. I needed to get in on this!

So, I jumped on the first good credit card offer that came along to jump start my new-found passion for collecting points for travel. It didn’t take long, as the Southwest Airlines credit card became available for a 50K point bonus after the first purchase. This was extremely attractive to me because it was 50K points AND the card didn’t have a spend requirement…perfect!

I jumped on it immediately. Got approved immediately. Got the card and made my first purchase pretty quickly. Then I finally asked myself, “awesome…now what should I do with these points?”

I asked myself that question a bit too late, because as it turns out, I realized that I really don’t want Southwest Airlines points. I don’t really have much of an interest in domestic travel, and the locations Southwest flies from Southern California, where I live, are very un-interesting to me for a variety of reasons. “Crap,” is the first thought that came to mind.

“Okay, well at least Southwest was having a holiday sale on gift cards from their website,” I recall thinking. I remember I could get about $600 worth of Amazon gift cards, which to me is almost like cash, by using those 50K points. Not a bad consolation. But I looked at my account and my points hadn’t posted. What gives?

Long story short, it takes 6-8 weeks to get your points. By then, the holidays were over, and my 50K points were only worth $500 in gift cards. Still not terrible, but I wasted a credit card application, a credit card from Chase (which is an important bank that doesn’t just hand out credit cards), and got points that I really don’t want. I plain and simple messed up.

Even if all I knew was that I want to travel internationally, it would have helped me significantly. I could have gotten any “normal” airline’s credit card or any hotel’s credit card and been perfectly fine. But I didn’t REALLY know what I wanted.

My advice to you is this: sit down, decide where you want to go and what kind of trip do you want to have. Details are your friend (i.e. are you cool with economy or do you want business or first class?). You can get off to a very good start in the points game if you just take some time to figure out what you want.

Below is a very basic rundown of the different options you have, and what they’re good for. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it will hit some of the biggest players in the points game. Hopefully this will help you determine what kind of points you want to start collecting in order to reach your goals, whatever they may be.

Bank Credit Cards – Usually the most valuable because these points can be transferred to a variety of airline and hotel partners.

  • American Express – Transfer to Delta, Jet Blue, Singapore Airlines, British Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Starwood Hotels, Hilton, Best Western, and MANY others.
  • Chase – Transfer to Southwest Airlines, United, Korean Airlines, Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club, and others.

Airline Cards – Valuable if you’re interested in flying and/or saving on flights. Note many of these can be transferred into by the above credit cards.

  • United – Arguably the best airline points there are. Has one of the best online award search engines. Access to Star Alliance airlines provides great access when flying to Asia in particular, but you can get nearly anywhere with United miles.
  • American – Not the best online search engine for awards. American miles are difficult to obtain via credit card sign-ups (Citi bank has a few cards). Has several good partners to get you around the globe, and some good off-peak reward redemptions.
  • US Airways – Terrible online search engine for award tickets; you will have to call in and talk to hard to deal with people. But, has some very valuable redemption options, like their off-peak awards. You can also buy points regularly for very cheap prices and get great value.
  • Delta – Their Sky Miles are commonly referred to as “Sky Pesos” because of how little the points can sometimes be worth. Still, good values can be found, like on a Business Class Round the World trip.
  • British Airways – The distance based award chart can sometimes drive you nuts, but can sometimes be an amazing value (for example West coast to Hawaii or very short flights). Frequently has transfer bonuses with partner American Express.
  • ANA – Also a very good rewards booking search engine, and lots of partners.

Hotel Cards – If you’re interested in free accomodations at nice hotels, there are plenty of options.

  • Hilton – Hilton has hotels everywhere in the world. Their points have lost some of their value recently, but there are still lots of good opportunities out there.
  • Starwood – Starwood points are valuable because of the “Cash and Points” option, which can provide tremendous value, particularly in Europe where rooms are expensive because the Euro is stronger than the dollar. Also, points can be transferred to almost any airline, with a bonus on top.
  • Hyatt – The ability to accrue points from Chase make this valuable, as there are a few hotels that charge $1000/night, but can be had for 22K points per night (sign up bonuses for chase can be 50K points or more, potentially giving you $2K+ in value!)
  • Priority Club – The best part about Priority Club are the “Point Break” hotels, a list of hotels that rotates every few months and offers reward nights for only 5K points. And yes, InterContinental hotels can definitely be found on this list!

Next up in the Beginner’s Guide series will be Part 2: Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Timing. Look for this post in the coming days!

Beginner’s Guide to Points – A 6-Part Series

Part 1: Starting Out – REALLY Know What You Want

Part 2: Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Timing

Part 3: It’s Good to Diversify…Usually

Part 4: Know Your Spending Habits Really Well

Part 5: If an Amazing Offer Comes Around, Don’t Wait!

Part 6: There are LOTS of Ways to Earn Points

Target Gift Card Extravaganza

If you follow the points world very carefully, you probably noticed there was an amazing deal today on $100 Target gift cards. The deal was part of a larger promotion giving $10 off $100 purchases of certain items, and to everyone’s surprise it just happened to include gift cards.

This inclusion is extremely valuable for many reasons:

  1. To the common shopper, this is simply 10% off of your purchase of anything from Target. A great deal.
  2. To the points-savvy shopper, it means being able to buy gift cards at a discount and then re-sell them to recoup the entire cost, thereby generating credit card spend (and therefore points) for free.
  3. To the expert points shopper (that’s us!), this was not just a way to get points for free, but also to meet a minimum spend requirement on a new credit card and actually turn a PROFIT while doing it!

Below is a step-by-step breakdown of how the expert points shopper views this deal. I’ll use just one gift card to simplify the explanation.

  1. Buy a $100 Target gift card for about $91.95 ($10 off plus shipping of $1.95)
  2. When the card is delivered, sell the card to Plasticjungle.com, which buys Target gift cards for 92% of value (more on this later)
  3. Before clicking through to Plasticjungle.com, make sure you go through Topcashback.com, which provides you with an additional 4% cashback on the transaction amount
  4. In a nutshell, that’s it!

Let me explain the math on this one.

  1. Buying the $100 gift card costs you $91.95. This is your only cost throughout the process.
  2. You sell the $100 gift card for 92% of its value to Plastic Jungle, which nets you $92 – so far you’re up  a nickel, woohoo!
  3. You clicked through Top CashBack, earning you an additional 4% on your transaction with Plastic Jungle, which is: .04 x $92 = $3.68.
  4. So in the end, you’re up $.05 (from selling to Plastic Jungle) + $3.68 (for clicking through Top CashBack = $3.73!

So basically, you just made $3.73, while at the same time earning 92 frequent flyer points on the credit card of your choice. Now…scale that to a few dozen transactions and you’ve made out pretty well!

There are several side-effects and other considerations to this process, some good and some bad. The good news is that this is a great way, and I mean a GREAT way, to meet the minimum spend requirement on a shiny new credit card. Maybe you would have struggled to hit the $10K spend minimum on the Ink Bold card, but this gives you a chance to get some free spending done to earn that 50K point bonus faster.

The bad news, and this could be a deal-breaker for some, is that Plastic Jungle has spies that also know this deal is going down, so they do what’s in their best interest and lower their payout to about 89.25% of value. That reworks my math a bit, but I’ll do the quick version this time. Sell to PJ for $89.25 + Top CashBack bonus of .04 x $89.25 = $3.57. That totals $92.82, meaning your profit is just $.87 ($92.82 – $91.95). Still a profit, but considerably less, especially if you’re considering this on a large scale.

The other consideration, which isn’t terrible but makes life a little more difficult, is that this process obviously takes a bit of work. You have to buy $100 gift cards in separate transactions in order to take advantage of the $10 off – you can’t just buy 20 gift cards at one time and get $200 off your $2K purchase. That’s time consuming. Then, selling to Plastic Jungle requires you to type in each gift card’s unique number and PIN so they can verify the amount, and then you have to physically mail in the cards in to them. You’ll then have to wait for a check in the mail. And Top CashBack is rather slow at awarding your cash back, though in my experience they do eventually give it to you, so be prepared for a long process with them as well.

Basically, expect it to be a long process from start to finish. That means if you’re relying on getting a check from Plastic Jungle or Top Cashback in order to pay off the $2K of Target gift cards you just bought, then you’re probably not going to make out too well. Go into it with the expectation that you won’t get paid back in time to make your credit card payment, but you can reasonably expect to get paid back eventually.

Seeing as how this was a one-day deal, this post was more to prepare you for future, similar deals. I mentioned yesterday that I’d be writing a 7-part series on how to get a jump-start on your point earning ways, and lo and behold Part 5 is titled “If an Amazing Offer Comes Around, Don’t Wait!” This is a prime example of that, and I’ll have many more details when I write that post.

Credit for finding this deal goes to Frequent Miler (and a reader who tipped him off), who is absolutely the ultimate resource for gift-card churning and other, unique ways to obtain points. But if you were following me on Twitter @TravelSummary, you would have been among the first to get in on this deal!

So, follow us closely and you’ll likely have plenty more opportunities to get to your points faster and cheaper than you thought was possible!

The Top CashBack link above is a referral link. The rest are regular old links that take you to where you want to go.

Buy Target Gift Cards!

Via Frequent Miler, Target is giving $10 off $100 gift cards today only! Easy way to reach a minimum spend requirement or get points for free if you’re willing to sell them back to Plastic Jungle!

Yes a little work is required and a little time consuming, but totally worth it to get free points!

Follow us @TravelSummary and you would’ve have been among the first to know!

Update:

Some people have reported being able to buy an e-gift card for $90 and then use that to buy another e-gift card, making a decent amount of money in the process. Others, however, have said that it does not work. I have not yet been able to verify this myself because my e-gift card has not been delivered. In order to protect myself, I’ve focused on buying physical gift cards instead. Low risk, but still high enough reward for me!

I’ll do a complete write-up soon regarding how to really reap the benefits of these types of deals!

Update 2:

Don’t buy e-gift cards! They no longer work for buying gift cards (if you can even get them anymore). Looks like Target wised up. I cancelled my one order of the e-gift card and ditto for the text gift card.

Also note that Plastic Jungle has lowered their payment amount to around 90%, so buy at your own risk!

Learning From My Mistakes and Successes

As is the case with most blogs that aim to teach, my goal is to help my readers learn and understand things that I personally did not understand at some point. At a time not very long ago, I was exactly who you are: someone who loves travel and who’s eyes have been opened to this new world of frequent flyer and credit card points that can allow us to travel for little or no cost. My goal is to help you achieve whatever your travel dreams are by bringing simple tips and tricks to you on a regular basis.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about learning, it’s that mistakes can often be as useful as successes. Since I’ve only started playing the points game recently, I can more or less chronicle what I did wrong and what I did right. I can recommend what might be  a better course of action than some of the well-known bloggers mention because, well, most of us just can’t start at the top.

And so I plan to write a 7 part series on how a true beginner, like I once was, can start earning, churning, and burning points with the best of ’em. I’ll discuss all the credit providers and touch on the main players in the frequent flyer world. And if there’s ever a question you have or something you’d like more information about, feel free to let us know – we’re here to help! No really, we are!

My new series will follow the below order, with Part 1 scheduled for the end of the week.

Beginner’s Guide to Points – A 6-Part Series

Part 1: Starting Out – REALLY Know What You Want

Part 2: Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Timing

Part 3: It’s Good to Diversify…Usually

Part 4: Know Your Spending Habits Really Well

Part 5: If an Amazing Offer Comes Around, Don’t Wait!

Part 6: There are LOTS of Ways to Earn Points

Cheers!

Travel Summary – The Week in Review

Well, this was certainly a whirlwind week in the points world! The United Airlines award ticket snafu sent the world into a Twitter and blogging frenzy as would-be travelers tried to take advantage of a price mistake that offered first class tickets to Hong Kong for four (4!) miles plus a few dollars for taxes. That’s a helluva mistake!

But there was other news in the points world, so read on to find out what you need to know!

Happy travels!

_

If you enjoyed this post and the others on this blog, feel free to follow me via the link on the right side menu and via Twitter @TravelSummary.

 

San Diego: Things to do and eat

Thanks to marZ’s detailed post on the logistics, lodgings, and points, I’ll do my best not to cover the same points. Let’s cover this weekend in a chronological fashion starting with Sunday. The trip covers our activities from Sunday morning through Tuesday afternoon (our return).

Sunday: (Hungry Bear Sub Shop, SD Safari Park, Julian County)

10 a.m. take-off. I get a range of about 360 miles to the tank and did not have to refuel for the entire trip, making the traveling much more wallet friendly than flying. Before getting to the zoo (about 1.5 hours SE of the O.C. when driving like a fugitive), we stopped by Hungry Bear Sub Shop (4.5 stars out of 227 reviews on Yelp as of 7/14/12) and got this:

Hungry Bear Sub Shop - BBQ Steak Sandwich

BBQ Steak Sandwich. It’s like a Subway Steak and Cheese on steroids.

Most of our food places are found on Yelp on the way and this was our Sunday’ lucky winner. The place lives up to it’s Yelp hype and the only complaint I have is that the place smells like burnt steak and toilets. Needless to say, we ate outside.  A short drive later and we were at the SD Safari Park.

Here’s a few interesting things I got to do at the park:

SD Safari Park - Cheetah Sign

SD Safari Park - Marble Earth Globe

We watched 5 year old take control of the world.

Visiting the San Diego Safari Park (which is in ESCONDIDO, not San Diego) was fun and a different experience from going to the San Diego Zoo. As imagined, the part is much more open and the layout of the park is designed to give priority to the animal’s living requirements rather than maximizing the animal-per-space ratio to give visitors’ the most bang for their buck. This picture below should show how spacious the park really is (kidding. kind of.)

SD Safari Park

Look how spacious the park was!

Although the San Diego Zoo is bigger with a wider selection of animals, I’d definitely check out their Cheetah runs (5:30 p.m.) and take a tram tour of most of the park. The tram is the big attraction and you see things like…

SD Safari Park - Giraffes

Giraffes!

…and you’ll see other stuff. If you shell out a little more, you can go on the truck tour that takes you right next to these giraffes and probably let’s you call it names. And feed it. SD Safari Park overall is worth going to at least once. It’s kind of out of the way, but it makes a great opportunity for you to go try apple pie from Julian county. It was good, but not something to go back for (since they sell these at albertson’s in SD).

Julian County - Apple Pie.

They also sell this at some alberton’s grocery stores in SD.

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That was it for Sunday. Went to the hotel, paid for parking ($15/day at the parking structure literally across from the SD Westin on 400 Broadway) and then watched a TON of TV. No pictures of the hotel room unfortunately. I’ll remember that for next time.

Monday: (Kayaking in La Jolla, Hash House, Neighborhood)

Ate this for brunch:

marZ's brunch - Hash House Agogo

marZ’s brunch. French toast, Eggs, Potato wedges, and stuff.
Note: Hash House serving size for 1 person feeds 2 – 2.5 people..

Every time I go to hash house, I always get too much food. After this, we went up to La Jolla to catch the OEX Dive & Kayak tour for the 7 caves kayak tour. Note that I’ve done the 7 caves tour with the competing La Jolla Bike and Kayak Tour which is located right down the same street the previous month. This time, the waves were calm and we were actually allowed to go into the caves which was cool, but underwhelming. If you do this tour and don’ t get to go in, La Jolla Bike and Kayak will give you a voucher for a free walk in tour to the 7 caves which is as good. Funny story – after we got out of the water, we noticed a couple news vans going to the beach and later discovered that there was a 14-foot great white shark near this beach AT THE TIME WE WERE KAYAKING. Omg, if I knew this was coming to find some lunch (me), I would’ve pooped my pants. (link: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57465511/great-white-shark-sighting-closes-popular-la-jolla-shores-beach/)

After this, we found Neighborhood on Yelp and went for a test drive..of food. The meal consisted of a mission viejo hefeweizen, spicy mac and cheese, and STEAK FRITES. Let me recount the details in order. Hefeweizen – good, Mac n’ cheese – overrated (save your $ and don’t get this), and STEAK FRITES! The steak frites are like carne asada fries with guacamole, except the fries are sweet potatoe fries. I’d go back to SD just for this dish (and maybe to say hi to the great white).  It was that good. The lighting was horrible so I didn’t end up getting any worthy pictures of this amazing dish. AMAZING! After that, ralph’s,  hotel, sleep, rinse and repeat.

Tuesday (Phil’s BBQ, Balboa Park):

I learned from my last SD trip that Phil’s is closed on Mondays. this is what we ordered:

Phil's BBQ

Turkey Burger – bland, dry, and gross.

Phil's BBQ - Beef Ribs
Beef ribs and veggies.

A tip for the imaginary readers: If you go to a place known for its ribs, don’t get the burger. (So much for being adventurous). For those who’ve had Lucille’s in long beach and haven’t had Phil’s BBQ – you aren’t missing a whole bunch.

To wrap the trip up, a short stop at Balboa Park where everything worth seeing (and those not worth seeing) costs money. I did touristy things like:

Balboa Park - Lily

Took a picture of a water lily.

Balboa Park - botany guest sheet
saw an interesting entry from a Dublin tourist. Look at the writing – it looks medieval.

and last but not least…

Balboa Park - jump shot (me)

Acted like a tourist.

All in all, a fun weekend using minimum $$ and maximum points (refer to marZ’s article for the points). Let’s hope for more entries, imaginary readers. Yay!

B.Postive

p.s. Wanted to leave you with a bit of inspiration. Be positive.