Monday, September 30, 2013

No More Cheating When Returning A Rental Car

Clark Howard and Chris Elliott both have reported that car companies are starting to install technology to track the amount of gas in a returned car down to the 1/10th of gallon. Try to cheat by not filling the tank all the way, you will get a surprise on your credit card statement a few days late.

Howard reports:
Avis is using a new technology that can read the amount of gas in the tank down to tenths of a gallon. If you return it just a hair less than full, they will charge you at just under a dollar per tenth of a gallon of gasoline. That's the equivalent of almost $10 a gallon, when you factor out the numbers they're using!
Elliott uncovered the Hertz is taking it one step further by adding technology to shut down a car for unsafe driving:
Avis isn’t the only car rental company measuring fuel down to a tenth of a gallon. Hertz is installing this technology, which is referred to by the industry term electronic fuel metering, in its fleet over the next few months in an effort to ensure that every drop of fuel is accounted and paid for. 
Mark Frissora, Hertz’s chief executive, says that his company loses $50 million a year in fuel. Its new system, called Zibox, is capable of shutting off a car engine remotely and operating car locks from afar. It relays location data, tire air pressure and fuel-level information back to Hertz, too. In other words, it will know exactly how much fuel you have in the car at any given time. “This is going to be good for customers,” Frissora says.
Personally, I have rented cars which were not quite full on gas. A mile away from the car rental place the gas gauge drops to 3/4 of tank. Therefore, I am out gas & money.
This new technology may help bring transparency into the whole process. On the other side, forcing customers to ensure the tank is fully full is not easy. Not all airports or rental car locations have gas stations right by the airport. For instance, on my trip to Colorado Spring, the closest gas station was 1 mile from the airport. Driving that 1 mile burnt gas and help move the gas gauge slightly off of full. Under the new system, I would be hit for that 1 mile of gas.

Elliott sums it up correctly:
If you’re renting a high-end, low-mileage car, your chances of having a vehicle with electronic fuel metering are good. You can either prepay for a full tank of gas through a rental company’s fuel-purchase option and time the return of your rental to the moment the tank reaches the “E” mark, or you can fill the tank to the top just before you return it and hope for the best.
It’s always a smart idea to save the gas receipt, which should note the time and the amount of fuel you added to the tank. If there’s a dispute, the invoice could prove to be useful.
In every advancement in technology, there are winners and losers. This advancement makes us consumers the big losers.
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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Using American Credit Cards In Europe

Huffington Post has an article about using American credit cards in Europe. Written by Tom Meyers, founder and editor of, Using American Credit Cards In Europe? Get Ready For Rejection argues should expect to have trouble buying things through machines.

From Singh Around The World
Meyer describes a situation that many American tourists experience:

"Here's a typical situation: You're ready to buy your RER ticket to get in from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. You line up behind your fellow travelers at the boxy ticket machines and watch them effortlessly touch-screen their way through their purchases. You step up, follow the onscreen instructions in English, insert your credit card and...
Hmmm. It didn't read the card? The machine spits the card back out (in slowmo). You reach for another card and...
(pause for suspense, and then, in red letters)
No matter how many times you try, it won't work. Hopefully you have cash (and coins, too, if your machine doesn't accept bills). If not, you'll probably be spending the next hour waiting in a line in the ticket office behind travelers hearing about all of their TGV options.
Ironically, your card will work in the ticket office. So why the rejection?"

The reason for the "rejection" is that Europe switched to a Chip & Pin system. A Chip & Pin card has a small computer chip in the card and requires a pin to complete the purchase. Why can you use your magnetic card in stores, but not at machines? The reason can be simplified that the "PIN" becomes the verification in absence of the signature.

Meyers suggestion is less than be desirable:
"My advice is to be prepared for your card to be declined anytime you try to pay at a kiosk or machine. Bring cash. Have coins ready. And be prepared to wait." 
Really? Use cash and coins? That's not really a solution.

Here's my solution, get a Chip and Pin credit card. And don't believe what Meyer's says:
"While there are a few American credit cards that now offer the chip-and-PIN technology, most seem to be for high rolling corporate business travelers, and the banks charge dearly for it."
American chip and pin credit cards are becoming more and more available for all and not just rich corporate business travelers. However, you need to do some research before getting chip and pin card. At the moment, there are two types of chip credit cards floating around: 1) Chip and Pin  and 2) Chip and Signature. Credit card companies are advertising the cards as one in the same.

The two are not the same. Chip and Signature credit cards have been reported to not to work in machines in Europe. The reason for them not working is the card has no pin to authorize the transaction. Therefore, when you must ask if the card is a "chip and pin" card.

Two years ago, the hottest credit card was the Chase British Airways Visa. The card was one of the first offered widely to Americans with a chip offered to it.

However, as Million Miles Secret writes the card was actually a Chip and Signature card. Not a Chip and Pin card.

What does this mean for Americans?

First, call your credit card company to see if any of your current credit cards can be upgrade to one with Chip and Pin technology. Many of the major credit card companies offer this service upon request.

Next, if applying for a credit advertising "Pin" technology, ask questions about which type of "pin" technology the card offers: chip & signature or chip & pin.

Finally, do research online about which credit card is best for traveling abroad. For instance, when we went to Canada, Cash Back Boy tried to use his Discover Card only to be turned down at every restaurant, bar, and attraction. A quick search online would have turned up that Discover's foot print in Canada is very small. He should have brought a different card.

A little bit of preparation before your trip to Europe, can allow you to catch that train!

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

She Lures Me Back

I wrote a satirical piece here about how I have a hard time with long term relationships with credit cards. At the end of the post, I stated that I was going to soon say goodbye to my United, US Airways and American Airlines credit cards.

In that post, I stated that each credit card "wants your attention and will do anything possible for it. They will try to lure you in with all the tricks in the bag." Well, US Airways Mastercard lured me back into using her.

Earlier this week, I called to cancel my credit card and was immediately transferred to a "specialist."  The specialist asked me why I was canceling my card. My response was simple, " I don't fly US Airways that often, other credit cards are offering bonuses for my spend and the annual fee is due." Her response shocked me, "Well, you HAVE earned over 65,000+ miles since you opened the card in 2012." So, what I replied? Another thing I mentioned was that Chase has been sending me bonuses quarterly to move my spending to other cards. (see here).

After every statement that the "specialist" threw at me, she would say, "ultimately, its your decision.' She must have stated this one phrase 10 times. After talking for 10 minutes, I came out and asked, "do you have any retention bonus for me?" Sometimes you just need to be direct of what YOU want or need to stay a customer.

Her first offer was:

       2,500 bonus miles if I make 5 $50+ purchases in 3 months

I told her that wasn't good enough. She countered with:

       2,500 bonus miles if I make 5 $50+ purchase in 3 months and 25% off the annual fee

After thinking about it for a few minutes, I accepted!

I can't believe that I was lured back. She has that way over me and knows my weakness: bonus points!

Literally, a few minutes after getting off the phone with the specialist, this offer for my US Airways Master card:

By registering for this promotion, I will earn 5 Bonus miles per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Restaurants, and Department, Toy or Game Stores spent from October 1 until the end of 2013. The maximum bonus miles I can earn is 2,500 meaning spending $500.

I called to confirm that my "retention" offer can be combined with this offer. Luckily, it can!

My plan is make my 5 $50 purchases for my retention bonus at restaurants, gas stations and department stores. If I do it, I will earn the 2,500 retention bonus and be half of the way ($250) to the second offer.

There is 5,000 bonus miles up for grabs. Am I up to the challenge? Oh, hell ya!

But, she lured me back...I hope the other two credit card don't read this....

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Your Wine Flies Free On Alaska Airlines

CNBC writes about a little know offer that Alaska Airlines offers to wine lovers. If you fly on Alaska Airlines out of airports in California, Washington State or any airport in Oregon, they will allow you to check one case of wine free.

The author, Harriet Baskas, writes that the Washington & Oregon wine growers approached Alaska Airlines to help solve a problem. Supposedly, people had no problem in dropping $300 on a case a wine, but wouldn't because of the $25 or $50 airline checked baggage fee:
"Shipping a case of wine as freight can cost up to $60 via UPS and checking it as baggage on an airplane can cost $25 or more, depending on the weight of the wine and the number of other bags being checked.
"Ironically, we'd see people willing to spend $300 to $500 on a case of wine, yet that extra $25 to put it on the plane was a negative," said Duane Wollmuth, executive director of Washington's Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. "It did stop people from buying the wine at the wineries."
You can learn more about the program here and here.

The program has been a great success. Wollmuth argues the promotion brings  "the program represents at least a quarter to a half-million dollars of additional wine sales a month in the peak season," 

As a reciprocal benefit, Alaska Airlines asked "wineries in participating regions to waive the tasting fees for it s passengers who show their boarding passes." However, I could not find of participating wineries. 

I think this is a great partnership! Hopefully they renew it for next year.

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A Great Day Yesterday

Chase is being very generous again. They are offering various points bonus to encourage people to spend money on various credit cards. Yesterday, I received my third bonus offer from Chase Hyatt.

This time the offer is spend $6,000 by the end of 2013 and earn 6,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points.

Others are reporting that they have received emails offering 5,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months. This is similar to my previous two offers.

This offer would be good on its own. However, I received a similar offer from my Personal Southwest Visa.

If I spend $5,000 in 3 months I will earn 3,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points.

Neither of the offers are jump up and down amazing. However, since I don't have any minimum spends to hit, I will move my spending over to these cards.

Did you get any offers from Chase?

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hotel Chain for Coffee Lovers???

New York Times is reporting that Starwood's  Le Méridien otels are aiming themselves to be the hotel of choice for Java Lovers.

To achieve the goal of being the hotel of choice for java lovers,  Le Méridien plans on having a dedicated coffee expert at each of its 100+ hotels.

"The lobby-based baristas will be responsible for encouraging social interaction and connecting guests to what’s happening locally, with recommendations on things to do around town.
“It’s a bit of a twist on a concierge, but more integrated into the food and beverage scene,” said Brian Povinelli, global brand leader for Le Méridien.
While hotels increasingly try to get guests to spend more time and money in their lobbies, Le Méridien’s coffee program seems to aim primarily at sociability. Guests will receive a voucher, making their first cup in the lobby free."
The concept is an interesting one. However, by striving to be the hotel of choice for java lovers, does Le Méridien alienate non-coffee drinks. For instance, I don't drink coffee, so this "barista" does nothing for me. The "baristas" sounds like a concierge that serves coffee. thanks!

I stayed at the  Le Méridien in Arlington, VA earlier this year. Overall, I enjoyed the hotel a lot, but I don't know how this new baristas will add to the experience. Le Meridian is this upscale hotel at a reasonable price. I didn't feel like it need a gimick like a coffee barista to make me want to stay there more.

Maybe this is Starwood's master plan? Will each of its hotel brand have something distinct about it. The W hotel is the party hotel. The Alfot's have the XYZ Bars. Now coffee baristas at Le Méridien?

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Always Register Your Credit Cards

Dining Rewards is an amazing program. I have written about it extensively here and here.

The key to being successful in Dining Rewards is registering all of your credit or debit cards with the program. You never know when you might visit a Dining Reward's restaurant.

For instance, one of the items on my bucket list was to take my grandparents to dinner. I don't why this was important, but it was important for me to do. I think the significance of taking my grandparents out to dinner was that it was proof that I finally accomplished something. I could afford to take my grandparents out to dinner without eating Ramen the rest of the week.

Back to the reason for the post. My grandparents picked the restaurant and had no idea that I was going to pay for dinner. When the bill came, I paid it with my Chase Sapphire to earn 2 points per dollar spent on the bill.  I was expecting nothing more out of the dinner. So, you could understand my surprise when I received this email:

An extra 234 miles for only registering my credit card. Oh ya!


Register all of your cards for dining rewards. If you don't, you could be leaving valuable miles/points on the table.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Minitime: 7 Ways to Save on Holiday Airfares

Every year from Thanksgiving to New Years, millions of people take the journey to visit love ones. Its always a time of excitement, but also lots of stress. One of the biggest factors contributing to the stress is the high cost of airfares.
Kid friendly website,Minitime has 9 Ways To Save On Holiday Travel. I only choice to share 7 that I truly believe true. The other 2 are decent ideas for some, but not all.

1) Book early: If you’re thinking about holding out for an amazing last-minute airfare, get that out of your head. Historically, deals are scarce during the high-traffic holidays and, what’s more, procrastinators often get shut out of the most desirable hotels and non-stop flights. Instead, start pricing airfares now and look for good overall value instead of a slam-dunk steal.

This year, I booked my ticket for Thanksgiving in July. Southwest was having a sale and I took advantage. $130 round-trip!

2) Be flexible with travel dates. Given that airfares are based on supply and demand, it’s unsurprising that the most expensive days to fly are typically on the eve of Thanksgiving and Christmas and on the Sundays following holidays. Moving your travel dates one or two days forward or back can make a big difference, too, and leaving a day before the school break almost always brings costs down.

One year, I flew home on Christmas Eve. The airport was empty and my ticket was 50% cheaper than flying the day beforehand.

3) Consider an alternative airport. Heading to or from a big city? It can be cheaper—often significantly cheaper—to fly in and out of a regional airport within a short drive of a major hub. Think Monterey instead of San Franscisco or Providence instead of Boston. Smaller airports typically offer a more pleasant experience during the holidays anyway, with fewer crowds, shorter lines, and cheaper parking.

My recommendation is ask your family first before booking yourself at a small airport. You may save $50 on your air ticket, but it takes 2 extra hours for your family to pick you up. Sometimes your family will pay you to fly from a close, more expensive airport to save them time.

4) Fly early and non-stop. Booking an early-morning and, preferably, non-stop flight is your best defense against getting stuck in an airport quagmire.  It’s the domino effect: Airport delays tend to pile up as the day wears on, creating afternoon log jams.

My other suggestion is to have back-up plans. If you flight is delayed or cancelled, have multiple other airline options planned in your back pocket. Also, have the airline's 1-800 phone number programmed in your phone. Don't wait to talk to someone at the airport, call the 1-800 number. You most likely will get to speak with someone on the phone before you would at the airport.

5) Watch your inbox. Keeping an eye on a particular route? Sign up with and you'll get an e-mail when a better-than-average airfare pops up.

Also, set-up alerts on Bing! 

6) Take the low road. For every destination experiencing high season, there’s another in low season. One no-brainer money-saving trick is simply to target off-season destinations. For an affordable Thanksgiving getaway, for example, you might take advantage of one of the many early-bird ski deals available in late September and October.

Many people head to Europe or Asia for Thanksgiving. Airfares tend to be cheap. Last year, I went to Japan for the Christmas holiday. Counties that don't celebrate holidays are perfect destinations to escape to.

7) Play dead. The week immediately following a holiday—such as right after Thanksgiving or right after New Year’s—is known in the travel biz as a “dead week.” If your dates are flexible, that’s where you can save big.

Self-explanatory.  Plan your vacation around the dead week or if possible see if you can work remotely. When I worked at my first job, I planned my vacation to ensure that I came back after the New Year. That required me to use some of my next year's vacation time, but my savings in airfare/stress was well worth it.

My last suggestion is to think of alternatives modes of transportation to get home. Can you get home on a train, bus or carsharing? Getting home to Connecticut, I have taken Amtrak, Megabus and even shared a ride with a stranger. Don't think you HAVE to fly home!

Holiday's are stressful times for all. Don't let high airfare cost add to the stress. A little big of planning can go a long way!

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Why You Need Credit Cards?

As someone in the mortgage industry, I have the luxury of looking at about 15 credit reports a week. A credit report is an intimate look into someone's life. If the report is heavy with student loans, the person most likely has a professional degree. See a credit card from a jeweler, an engagement ring was purchased. A credit report can tell me a lot about a person.

If I take an application from a person of the millennial generation, I can guarantee that the person will have little to no revolving credit or lots of credit debt. As previously written here, many people in the millennial generation distrust credit cards. Their distrust is rooted in a fear of accumulating debt.

While this is the correct mindset to hold, not having any credit cards is dangerous. One of the problems I encounter with millennial borrowers is that they have lower credit scores or sometimes not enough credit to be approved. Typically, a person needs three credit trade lines to be approved for a conventional mortgage. Most of the time, millennial borrowers cover the three credit trade lines requirement by student loans. However, the lack of revolving credit cards can hold down a borrower's credit score.

A borrower with the near perfect score (800+) tends to have a good balance of installment (loans) to revolving debt (credit cards, line of credit). In addition, the borrower's history of having credit tends to be longer. For my younger borrowers, their lower credit score tends to be for two reasons (lack of history and variety of credit). Due to their age, the lack of history is somewhat outside their control. However, the variety of credit aspect is something that you can change. Open a line of credit on your checking account or get a credit card with no annual fee. Eventually, the no annual fee credit card will help with the lack of history as well.

A few months back, I was talking to Limited Credit Boy about this issue. Up until a month ago, Limited Credit Boy only credit card was one that he was an authorized user on due to his father. I encourage him to get a credit card. Any credit card with no annual fee would be fine, just get a credit card. My reason? The credit agencies have change the way they count the credit card history of authorized user. Previously, a parent would add their child to a credit card and the child would automatically get their parent's credit history for that particular card. For instance, say the parent opened the credit card in 1985 and then adds their child to that particular credit card in 2005. In the past, the credit agencies would count the 20+ year history on the child's credit, boasting the child's credit history. Funnier if the child was born in 1990, 5 years after the card was open! Now with credit agencies discontinuing this practice, the only way to build a credit history is actually have credit for a long period of time.

My goal in writing this post to encourage people to think about their future. Your credit score is one of the most valuable assets that you have. While I have written frequently about how credit card debt can hurt your credit score, I have neglected to talk about how a lack of credit can equally hurt it. My generation's dislike of credit cards I fear will result in a large segment of the population unable to get mortgage financing in a few years.

I am not advocating people go out and apply for 15+ credit cards like me. That is a little extreme. However, I believe every person should have 1 or 2 credit cards. Credit cards to help buy plane tickets, rent cars and build your credit score. The decisions you make now can drastically effect your ability to buy a car, home or even get a job in the future.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Would Share A Hotel Room With A Stranger?

One of the downsides of traveling by yourself is the cost of hotel rooms. Typically, hotels charge solo travelers the same rate for a room as 2 people. Would you share a hotel room with a stranger to reduce your lodging costs?

That's the question a new website Easynest is trying to solve. Easynest's goal is to pair like mind-travelers together to split the cost of a hotel stay. The service is currently free.

The first thing I don't like about Easynest is that I have to sign-in by connecting to Facebook. Why can't I sign-up normally? Why do I have to give you access to my Facebook Profile?

Next you create your profile:

This is the second thing I don't like about this website. I wish there was more I could add the profile especially what I am looking for in a "guest." I don't want to room with a smoker. Yes, someone could lie that they aren't a smoker, but with these type

The next step is to list your hotel stay:

At the moment, its your responsibility to collect the money from your guest. Easynest doesn't get involved. Therefore, this could be a little risky.

On the flip side, need to search for someone willing to split their room. You can do that on the website's home page:

I did a quick search of people willing to share hotels on Friday October 25th and found nothing in LA, Seattle, Washington, DC, New York, Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, and Dallas. So, it won't work for every one of your trips.

When would I use this?

I started to think about when I might use this website. The likely place is on my solo vacations like my trip to Tokyo last year. However, I love coming back to my hotel by myself. I travel solo for a reason. Therefore, I
doubt I would use it then. Maybe on a one night stay waiting for a flight the next morning?

Then it hit me. This website is perfect for mattress runs! On a mattress run, the goal is to use the stay to get a free night, extra points or status. Many times on a mattress run, you don't actually stay in the room. This is perfect for this website.

Here is how I would use Easynest. First, advertise my mattress rub. If someone is interested in your ad, you can let them know that you have no plan on spending the night. You go to the hotel, check-in, wait for your guest to arrive, accept the money and then leave. This could reduce the cost of your mattress run.

Pros:  Reduce cost of your hotel stay, complete a mattress run, and earn points

Cons: You have no idea what your guest does after the stay. Do they destroy the room, order movies or
           internet and you are stuck with the charge?


Overall, I think Easynet is great idea. I defiantly can see some 20 somethings thinking its cool to share a room with a stranger. I might try out using Easynet for mattress runs. However, I doubt this website is going to catch on. If people do not put up opportunities for shared rooms, people can't try out this service. Word of mouth advertising will be key to this site's success!

Would you share a room with a stranger?
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Saturday, September 21, 2013

How Many Miles Could I Earn In 1 Hour?

I wrote here about how you can earn miles through taking surveys.

Opinion Miles Club has partnered with United Airlines to earn miles for completing surveys.

Unlike other mile earning survey companies, Opinion Miles Club directly deposits the miles into your United MileagePlus account within a day, if not hours of completing a survey. No need you to transfer miles and wait 6 to 8 weeks.

Reader David left a comment that he has earned 6,400 miles in the past several weeks. That is over 20% of the miles needed for a round-trip award ticket in the United States.

David's comment got me thinking. How many points could I earn in an hour taking surveys? Last night, I put the question to test. For one hour with no interruptions, I took surveys. The result was that I earned 220 miles in 60 minutes, a little less than 4 miles a minute. I completed 4 surveys and time-out of 3 others.

The best part was the miles posted within an hour:

Not to shabby. You aren't going to get mile rich off of surveys, but its a free way to earn points!
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Friday, September 20, 2013

Studying Abroad and Miles/Points

Studying abroad, during college, is extremely popular among the millennial generation. According to the Institute of International Education, 273,996 students studied abroad in 2010 academic year. Compare that to 10 years earlier where only 154,168 went aboard to study. Europe is still the preferred choice of place to study with Asia quickly gaining ground.

Institute of International Education
In 2005, I made the decision to study abroad in Brussels, Belgium. For me, the decision was easy. I had never left the United States and I wanted to explore the world. My time abroad gave me the opportunity to visit over 15+ countries and gave infected me with the travel bug.

One of the biggest expenses of studying abroad is the plane ticket. There are a few reasons for the high price of the airline ticket. First, the time frame that you have to book the tickets. Typically, you find out that you are studying abroad only about five months prior to the program starting. Second, the fix dates of the program.  Many programs have set times when the program starts and ends. Arrive early or stay late the additional cost of lodging is on the student.

For my semester in Brussels, I had only $2,500 in spending money. I had work all the previous summer and banked every possible dollar. However, I was having a very hard time finding a cheap airline ticket. We had to arrive in Brussels on Labor Day and exit our housing a week before Christmas. Not the easiest times to get cheap tickets. Luckily, I found a $550 roundtrip airfare via I flew JFK to Zurich to Brussels on American and Swiss Airlines. Coming home, I flew the reverse all on Swiss. However, I spent a little over 20% of my budget to study abroad meaning I had less to spend over there. Saving $300 or $400 on my ticket would have allowed me to take one more weekend trip to another country.

I wish I had miles back then to defray some of the costs of my airline ticket.  The ability to spend 50,000 miles on an economy ticket would have been bank. Yes, I know spending 50,000 miles on a $500 is not always a great value, but $500 was a lot of money for me back then.

If you or your child is studying abroad, spending miles on airfare is a great idea. For instance, you decided to study abroad in London next semester. The program starts on January 13 and ends on May 16th. Currently, the cheapest airfare flying on January 12th and May 17th is $1,013. Ouch!

For me, this would have eaten 40% of my budget. United's cheapest ticket is closer to $1,200.

The same itinerary on United using points would cost you 60,000 or 30,000 miles each way.

Looking at those travel dates, I see over 15+ different itineraries currently available.


For the direct flight from Los Angles to London, the price would be 60,000 miles plus $192.20 in taxes.

Is 60,000 miles worth $1,000? That's a personal choice, but I am leaning towards yes!

Now the harder question, how do I get 60,000 miles? Great question!

First, go to my recap on 31 ways to earn United miles. There are tons of points to be earned. Complete a few of these offers and you will make major progress.

Next, talk to your parents. Why? The easiest way to earn a boat load of point is apply for a points earning credit card. However, if you are under 21, the Dodd-Frank act requires you to prove you have sufficient income/assets or have a co-signor. If you are anything like me, when I was in college, your income is limited. I think my annual income was around $5,000 from a summer job and my work study. Most likely not enough income to be approved for a credit card.

Side Note: Getting a credit card is a major responsibility. I believe everyone should have one, if they can make the payments on time. If this will be your first credit card, get one with a small credit limit. Start small. Before you apply, I highly recommend you read my article Young People and The Chains of Credit Card Debt.

Afraid to ask your parents to co-sign a credit card for you. If I was going to have this conversation with my mom, I would start like this:

Me: Mom do you want to help me save $1,000?
Mom: What's the catch?
Me: You know that I am going to London next semester to study abroad.
Mom: Yes
Me: Well, I was searching for airline tickets to get to London and they cost $1,200.
Mom: Wow, that's expensive.
Me: I was thinking of using miles instead of cash to pay for the airline ticket.
Mom: Isn't it going to cost like 100,000 miles for a ticket to London?
Me: No, only 60,000.
Mom: How are you going to earn 60,000 miles?
Me: This is how you can help. If you co-sign for the {United, AA, Us Airways} credit card for me, I can earn 40,000 miles after spending $1,000 within 3 months.
Mom: Do you have a $1,000 to spend?
Me: If you don't trust me, we could make you an authorized user and you could spend the $1,000 and pay it off.

Do you see how I started the conversation on how to save money, then went into the ask, and then moved to addressing her apprehensions? If you explain it in such a way that they or you will be saving money by opening the credit card and completing the small spend, you are more likely for them to agree.

Opening the credit card will only earn you 41,000 miles (40,000 for the sign-up and 1,000 for the spending $1,000 to earn the bonus). However, you need 60,000 for the round trip.

To earn the last 19,000 mile, you need to be strategic. My first recommendation is to see what frequent flyer accounts do you have miles in already. Have 10,000 miles in AA, then you should focus your time/effort only on earning AA miles. My next recommendation is to see how many miles you need to earn the ticket and work backwards. Need 15,000, come up with a strategy to earn those miles (1,000 from dining rewards, 2,000 from eRewards, 500 from eMile etc.) Coming up with a strategy will make the goal seem within reach.

What happens if you can't earn more than 40,000 miles from the credit card? That still works. Some airlines allow you to purchase one way award tickets at half the price of a round-trip award ticket. In the United Airlines situation, you could use miles for the flight to London and purchase the return in cash. Even in this situation, you will save money.

Looking back, I wish I would have found the miles/points community before I studied abroad. It would have save me a ton of money. If you or your child are studying abroad in the near future, think about using miles to help reduce the cost.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Expat Boy: Going Abroad, What Card Do I Need?

Another post from Expat Boy:

Visa, it really is everywhere you want to be. Not all credit cards are created equal, especially when it comes to international travel. 

With few exceptions, the world is wired for the use of your credit card; the necessity of exchanging large amounts of cash, at the airport, ended several years ago. Due to a wide range of factors, the dollar’s global stature is down and its value can fluctuate broadly against other currencies. If you are risk adverse, one way to minimize wild currency valuation rides is to exchange large amounts of dollars for the local currency all at once. The problem with this strategy is you are now in possession of larges amounts of money, either at you hotel or on your personally. Another way to minimize currency valuations is to use your credit card. Credit cards afford travelers the ability to exchange only the exact amount of money needed and, add in some other important benefits.  
There are important features to look for when selecting a plastic-partner for traveling abroad. The most important feature to look for is a card with NO Foreign Transaction Fees is essential. Both my Capital One Cash Back and United Mileage Plus cards offer this. Foreign Transaction Fees can slowly eat through a travel budget. Ranging from as low as 1% to as high as 5%, foreign transaction fees are added to every credit and debit card purchase made abroad. Some debit cards add foreign transaction fees to cash withdrawn from ATMs. Saving $3,000 for a vacation and having about $100 (3% transaction fee) waster for the privilege of accessing money is nonsense.

A second important feature is how the financial institution issuing a credit card calculates currency exchange rates. Most, but not all, banks calculate the cost of foreign transactions in USD (US Dollars) at the best Interbank Exchange Rate of the day prior to when a transaction posted. If a bank’s currency exchange rate is varying from what Visa suggests, Foreign Transaction Fees, or some iteration thereof, are being charged.

Thirdly, if traveling in a ‘financial high risk’ area, a 1-800 number connected to a US customer service representative, not a call center, is essential.  Credit card companies are cracking down heavily on fraud, especially in China. Make one purchase in one of these high risk counties can result in a frozen card. Having a card frozen while abroad is no fun. This highlights an important reason why you needs to carry at least one spare credit cards. Debit cards are even more prone to being frozen, eaten by ATM machines or snapped in two pieces.
Finally, something to watch out for: a new and expanding type of foreign transaction is the Dynamic Currency Conversion, putting a foreign purchase into dollars at the point of sale. This option will always involve markups over the wholesale bank exchange rate of the day. When the option is available, decline this type of transaction and allow a bank to properly convert the purchase, not the merchant.

A credit card can be your best friend or your worst enemy when traveling aboard. A little work before you leave can help make the trip so much smoother.
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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hotel Review: Dulles, VA Fairfield Inn and Suites

After my stay at the Winchester Fairfield Inn and Suites, I was one stay shy to earn a free night through Marriott's Unexpected Bonus. I decided to do a mattress run to earn that free night. After a quick search,  I found a $50 night stay at the Dulles Fairfield Inn and Suite.

After taking the bus from Tysons, I wondered over to the area where hotel shuttles pick up passengers. It is located on the ground level around the 2A sign. I decided not to call the hotel and request a pick-up. Instead, I waited to see if the shuttle would arrive. Luckily, it arrived 20 minutes later. There was a sign at check-in that stated that you need to call the hotel to request a shuttle. It doesn't normally run to the airport.

The hotel is located on Indian Creek Drive, about a mile away from the airport.

This Fairfield Inn and Suites is one of the unrenovated hotels. The lobby was tiny, but had a very homey feel to it.

I was given a room on the first floor that faced the main road.


You could tell this room was unrenovated. It had a look of an old country country club. Green carpet, dark wood furniture and tacky art work. The room was very clean and the only real sign of age was the tub.

The hotel has a small gym has two treadmills, an elliptical, a set of weights and a bench. The gym faces the pool.

The pool is a great size for swimming laps. There are a few places to sit around the pool. No need to bring towels from your room as big beach towels are provided. The pool is open until 11 pm on weekdays and
8 pm on the weekend.

Directly outside of the pool is an area outside to sit, sun bath and have a smoke or two.

One of the benefits of staying at Fairfield Inn and Suites is free breakfast. On the weekends, breakfast is served until 10am in the cafeteria.

They had a variety of cold options


And hot food; eggs, bacon and a waffle maker:

In the cafeteria room is a computer for your use:

A couple quick notes, there is only a subway located in a gas station in terms of walking distance for food. The airport is about a 10 minute van ride. Overall, this hotel was OK for a quick mattress run. The hotel was clean except for cigarette buds in the hall way.

Finally, what is this list? It was taped on the door outside the door across the hall from me

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