Monthly Archives: June 2013

Cruising Tips

Tip #1  To learn the nitty gritty about your stateroom and can’t read the deck plans online head to my favorite site Cruise Critic, find your cruise line and post a question “Is 6029″ a good cabin?”  You will surely get comments that will tell you if you have made a good or poor decision.  Some deck plans do help.  For instance in the Celebrity line of Solstice ships, they have two bumps outs on each side.  Some of those are very prized staterooms since they have double or twice as large balconies because of the bump. Many travel agents are not aware of it.  Do your homework.

look closely for the bump on the Solstice class of ships on Celebrity
look closely for the bump on the Solstice class of ships on Celebrity

Tip #2   Conde Nast compiled information for you on a range of cruise subjects  Click here to go to their site.

Tip #3  What helps seasickness?  Fresh ginger but of course if you think you might be prone, see your doctor before your cruise and get the prescription patches to wear behind your ear or get over the counter medications that can help you.  You are less likely to get seasick in the Caribbean than you are in the Atlantic though you can get seasick on any body of water.

Tip #4  Repositioning cruises are generally a great value and you may see some ports that you generally would not see.  The cruise lines in the fall and spring need to move their ships and will offer repositioning cruises at a discount.  Of course that means you fly into one city and out of another but that is no problem – just book an Open Jaw ticket with your airline.  I generally go to Repostioningcruises.com to see what is available and then book with whom I want.

Tip #5 look at the cruises that the airlines are offering.  You can get airline miles by booking through the airlines.  Don’t forget about checking out the cruise prices with Costco as well.

Tip #6 For excursions an option is Shoretrips  Although I have not used them, passengers on my last cruise did and they were very happy.

Tip #7  Insurance – some prefer to “self insure” their own trips (in other words not purchase any insurance) while others wouldn’t leave home without it – it’s a very personal choice.  If you need pre-existing coverage, you have to purchase your insurance with 14 days of booking your trip.  You can purchase it through your travel agent (generally the ship’s insurance) or purchase it on your own.  There are many good sites such as insuremytrip.com where you can compare different policies.  Most of these policies are secondary and will pay after your primary insurer pays.  Some will pay first so determine what you want.

Tip #8  Staying on the insurance topic, some prefer to just have medical evacuation coverage and the one that is recommended the most is MedJetExpress  You need to find out if it meets your needs.

Tip #9 My must haves – I always bring a small alarm clock with me since there aren’t any in the staterooms – I like to know what time it is.  In my luggage I bring a power strip to plug in my alarm clock, curling iron (ships provide hairdryers), plug in my phone, IPad, laptop, etc.  I also bring duck tape to put across closet door/drawers so they don’t open in case of rough  seas.  I pack my toiletries in a small plastic basket from the Dollar Store and then just put the basket on the bathroom vanity – keeps everything together.  My clothes get wrinkled being packed so again I go to the Dollar Store and get a spray bottle and sprtiz my clothes while on hangers and the wrinkles fall out.

Tip #10  Go with a good attitude, don’t sweat the small things, relax and enjoy your vacation.

 

Excursions….what to do on shore

When Blogger Hubby and I cruise,  most times we take a tour when we are at a new port or even if we have been there before and want to see do something different.  There are many options for touring on shore.  The cruise lines  sell their own excursions, which in my mind are crowded (usually about 45 per large bus) and many times multiple buses, expensive and very rigid in what they do.  I prefer smaller, more intimate tours and if I want to make sure I see something specific I’ll let the tour director know in advance.  To do all this, we make private arrangements, generally in advance, with a tour company.

You may be wondering how I find these tour companies if I have never been to these ports before.  There are several ways to get help.  As I mentioned before, I use Cruise Critic as my go-to for any kind of help that I need.  One of their threads is Ports of Call and you can read about other people’s experiences with excursions, you can ask for recommendations and you might get an idea of what to do at a particular port of call.  Other times I will go to Google and look for shore excursions in XYZ and a number of them will come up.  After I get the name of a tour vendor I go to Trip Advisor and read the reviews for the tour operator.  Once I feel confident about my tour operator, I contact them directly to inquire if they are available for the date I am in port, what their price is and what currency it is in, if a deposit is needed and what the tour includes.  If I need to make any changes this is the time to talk about it with the tour operator.  If I am part of the Cruise Critic Roll Call for my sailing, I mention this on our thread and hope to get more people from the Roll Call on this excursion.

The cruise line’s argument against you doing a private excursion is that they will hold the ship for you if you are on a ship sponsored excursions but will not if you are on a private excursion.  I have never heard of a private excursion being late  but it could happen and it is worthwhile to know the risk.  I always tell the tour operator that I would like to be back on board about an 45 minutes to an hour before we sail which allows me a little wiggle room in case something should happen.  These tour operators need our business and they know that we talk and share our experiences so they are not going to have us miss the ship.

Instead of being on a coach bus, generally we are transported by a 10 passenger van or a mini bus always with plenty of room and in comfort.  It is much easier trying to keep track of 10 people than the 45  that you will find on a ship’s excursions.  The tour operators know the route that the big buses use and they get us to the sites before the throngs of passengers from these big buses get there.

One excursion we were on in St. Lucia  was Blogger Hubby, myself and one other passenger.  One of the stops was at a teacher’s home where she set out two tables on her porch overlooking the Caribbean of local homemade treats.  This was certainly a treat for us and one that we always remember fondly.

For those that want to do it alone, that is fine and certainly we have done it that way a few times.  I will say that in some ports, if you are part of a group with a tour company you get to “jump” the long line waiting to get in.  That happened to us in Istanbul, Rome and Vatican City.  It is definitely worth it to take a tour in those cities.

For those that are going to islands and want to go to beaches, just hop in a cab and go!  This is particularly true in Cozumel – there are so many beach clubs and there are always cabs to bring you back to the ship.  In Roatan, Honduras four of us “rented” a cab and driver for a total of $80 ($20 per person) for the day.  He gave us a tour, took us to a great beach club, negotiated a rate for us for snorkeling, stopped by an iguana cafe so we could eat and try iguana (yes, I tried it), and took us where ever we wanted to go.  I don’t think any ship’s excursion could top our day.

Do you think you will make your own arrangements next time you go on a cruise for your day in port?

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Looking for someplace to go that is a little romantic, a little old fashioned and still get some exercise? Have you ever seen “Somewhere in Time”, the movie with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour? Well, that location really does exist and it is called Mackinac Island.  It is located in the Straits of Mackinac which is the body of water that connects Lake Michigan with Lake Huron. There are no motor vehicles on the island other than emergency vehicles.  You are either going to be walking to get around, riding a bicycle or having a horse drawn taxi or carriage ride.  Sounds pretty good to me.

To get to this unique island you could fly Delta to Pellston, Michigan which is the closest airport but in my opinion the most expensive. Another alternative is to fly into Chippewa Airport located in Sault Ste. Marie, MI.  From there you could rent a car or take a bus the 33 minutes to the docks in St. Ignace, MI.   If you do decide to fly into Pellston, there are two shuttles that are located in the main terminal of the airport that can transport you to the ferries which are about 15 minutes away in Mackinaw City.  Finally , you could fly into Detroit and rent a car for the almost 5 hour drive north.

Pellston is a very unique regional airport that is only serviced by Delta Airlines.  Sault Ste. Marie does not have the decor that Pellston does.

Waiting at this airport is very pleasant.
Waiting at Pellston Airport is very pleasant.

There are several ferry lines that go over to the island as well as hydrofoils. The ride is fairly short, about 20 minutes when using Shepler’s Ferry service but if you choose to use Arnold, they use a real ferry and it takes about 40 minutes.  A couple of times a day, Shepler’s has what they call their Mighty Mac ride which is the same price.  This special 5 minute longer trip goes under the Mackinac Bridge with a short narrative.  My special travel tip is to go to the Shepler website because they are often a few dollars less expensive and they do have online specials.  We got one yesterday that was 3 adults for $62.  There is free day parking at Shepler’s as well

When we travel we usually take our bicycles  with us or you can rent them on the island. As of yesterday, the price to bring a bike onto the ferry was about $9.  You can rent bicycles, tandem bicycles, chariots to hitch to your bike to have your child ride in behind you. If you ride around the lake shore road, which is M- 185, it is about 8 miles long, flat and has no cars.  The only highway that has no automobiles!

Bring your own bicycle or rent one of the island
Bring your own bicycle or rent one on the Island.
Horse drawn carriage is a favorite mode of transportation on the Island
A relaxing way to get around the Island

Fort Mackinac, a fort the British built for the Revolutionary War, is on the island.  It was used by the Americans during the War of 1812 to protect the Great Lakes.  Two important battles were fought there.  You can tour the buildings. on the fort, watch the canon being fired on the hour as well as rifle shooting demonstration.    The Governor of Michigan has its summer residence on the island near the fort.

Fort Mackinac
Fort Mackinac

We like to walk along the wooded paved path to the side of the island to view the Natural Arch. Looking through the Arch you can see more of the Straits of Mackinac.  We then walk to the right and down the 204 stairs to the lake road and walk back to the downtown along this plesant road.  We pass what I think is the most beautiful hotel on the island – Mission Point Resort.  It really is a throwback to the older times with Adirondack chairs on the lawn overlooking the water, a putting and shipping green, beautiful hours and just a drop dead gorgeous location.

Natural Arch
Natural Arch

On Mackinac Island is the Grand Hotel which holds the distinction of having the longest porch in the world – that’s right, the WORLD. Unless you are staying at the hotel you have to pay $10 to gain admission to the porch. This hotel has a style of elegance that is not found in many places and there is a strict dress code..   This is a relaxing way to spend the day.

the longest porch in the world at 660 feet
The longest porch in the world at 660 feet

There are many things to do on the Island and is perfect for the entire family.  I hope you get to visit this jewel sometime soon and when you go there, get some fudge.  They are known for great fudge!  My favorite is Joanne’s Fudge but Ryba’s is very good also.

To see more of the island, watch “Somewhere in Time”

Chase 60,000 mile offer ends Saturday

I’ve heard from several of my readers that you have applied for the Chase Ink or Plus Business cards.  This offer ends on Saturday so if you have been on the fence about it, now is the time to make a decision.  If you are unsure if you are a business, you are if you babysit, sell things on etsy, ebay, tutor, give piano lessons, referee  – being a business is actually not as strict as some of us think.  Here is a primer from Million Mile Secrets instructing you on how to fill out a business credit card application. Again, the application link is here for the Ink Plus and here for the Ink Bold.

If you applied and did not get instant approval, my recommendation is to call the reconsideration line and see if they need more information or if you can clarify something for them.

A credit card tip – never cancel your oldest credit card because that is where most of your credit history is.  Use it once a year  to maintain your credit.

Booking Your Cruise

You have thought long and hard about what type of vacation you want and have decided to try a cruise.  You have also decided where you want to cruise.  Wondering what to do now?  Generally I look at the itineraries of each ship going to the location that I want to go to and try to ascertain what are the differences.  Do some ships spend more time at port or more sea days?  Do some include more of the places you want to go to?  Narrow your list down to 2 or 3 and then compare prices.

cruising under the Sydney Bridge
cruising under the Sydney Bridge

Once I have decided which cruise I want to go on I need to determine how I want to book this cruise.  If you have cruised before and don’t need any help then you might want to consider getting quotes from online travel agents as well as the brick and mortar travel agents and also through the cruise lines.  When I ask for a quote I also inquire what type of On Board Credit (OBC) they will give me.  OBC is a credit on your shipboard account – anything you buy on the ship goes on your shipboard account.   The other question I ask is if the price goes down, will they adjust it and will that affect my OBC.  I found last year that one travel agency quoted me “book price” but their OBC was huge.  Another one had a discounted cruise but a small OBC.  I basically had to figure out what the bottom line was for each quote. Another question is what is their cancellation fee? Are there any fees for changes (like a stateroom change). All of these factors will help you decide who to book with.

Santorini, Greece
Santorini, Greece

I generally pick out what cabin I want from previous experience – I like mid – ship and close to  elevators or stairs.  Holland America has three sets of elevator banks so being mid-ship will always put me near an elevator bank.  The other cruise lines, to the best of my knowledge, only have two sets of elevators banks.   Always look at the deck plans that are on the cruise line’s website.  Look at what would be over your room.  You may not want to be under the pool deck or under a cafe as they move the chairs early and late in the day.  Also see what is across from your room.  You may not want to be across from a utility room where your cabin stewart will be in and out all the time or a utility elevator for staff only.

Panama Canal
Panama Canal

You also need to decide what type of cabin you want.  The interiors are less expensive and you have no idea if it is morning or night without a window but they may fit your budget.  Some rooms have port holes, others have windows, some have obstructed views (lifeboat in front of your window), some have balconies, some have larger balconies and some have wrap around balconies (those in aft suites).  I personally like the balconies but have been in all the others except the fancy schmanzy suites.   You, your needs and your budget will dictate what type of stateroom you will have.

Alaska
Alaska

Another option is a guarantee stateroom and those are least expensive in their own category than choosing a particular room in the category of your choosing.   You are guaranteed a room at that category or higher.  I have tried that only once and I was not pleased (had second cabin from the bow and a long walk whenever we wanted to go somewhere or to return to the cabin).  Others have been very pleased with the rooms that were given to them.  You must be willing to accept the worse cabin at your category or higher and some of the higher ones are not that good based on location.  It’s a gamble and you must be prepared to win or lose.

Alaroa, New Zealand
Akaroa, New Zealand

After I book a cruise I want to make sure that I know when and if he price has dropped so I can get an adjustment from my travel agent.  Most travel agents are not pro-active so you have to let them know if there has been a price reduction.  I go to this site and purchase a subscription for $5.  They will send me an email when the price has gone down.

Istanbul
Istanbul

Lastly, one of the best resources I have found is Cruise Critic.   Register, get a screen name and you are good to go.   Find the cruise line you want to cruise on and go to their board.   You might want to start a new thread with your stateroom number and ask if anyone has stayed in this stateroom before and what was their experience.  If you have any questions about anything, you can ask it here.  Like many boards you’ll always find some snarkly posters….just ignore them.  Most people are happy to share their experiences and help those who are new to cruising.  They also have a Roll Call section and here is where you begin to meet people who will be on your cruise.  Fine your cruise line, your ship and your sailing date.  Go on and introduce yourself.  We have met so many great people and have done so many activities with people we have met through the Roll Call.

Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo

I hope you are enjoying this series on cruising.     if so, please consider becoming a follower by signing up to your right.  Please feel free to pass this site on to your friends and family.  if you have any comments or questions, feel free to ask them and I will answer to the best of my ability.

Next up – what to do on shore.

Shopping Portals

This is the last in a small series about using your credit card to make your travel free.

Most credit cards are affiliated with a shopping portal – in other words if you go through your credit card to stores that you are going to shop online with, you’ll get extra points.  If you are familiar with Ebates it is very much like that site.

With the Chase Sapphire, Ink Bold, Ink Plus you would go to Ultimate Rewards. Once on that page go to the search column in the upper right hand corner and put in the name of the store you want to shop at. For purposes of this demonstration, I am going to use Kohls. Kohls gives me an extra 10 points per dollar if I go through this portal. Theoretically you should be using your Chase Sapphire card to make the purchase BUT (and this is an important but) I have been successful many times in using the Kohls credit card, a gift card or some other means of paying for the purchase. If you do not want to take the chance, use the credit card who’s portal you went through.

What I will be doing next month is using my Chase Freedom card because if you remember from this post is that the Chase Freedom has bonus categories every quarter. The third quarter (July, August and September) Kohls is a bonus category and you will get an extra 5 x points when shopping through Kohls. You will then be double dipping – getting 5 x points for using the Freedom card and then an extra 10 x points when making the purchase through the Ultimate Reward shopping portal if you have the cards I mentioned above. Remember, it doesn’t work every time but it works most times. You then could be earning 15 x points per dollar – not too shabby.

When I want to see other options for shopping portal when shopping at Kohls, I would go to evrewards. I can then make an informed decision as to what shopping portal would be best for this purchase. You still have to know what your bonus categories are for the Chase Freedom card.

As Alec Baldwin would say:
Alec

Maximizing your credit card spend

One of the best way of earning more than one point per dollar spent on your credit card is to be aware of the bonus categories.  Most credit cards offer you more points on certain items.

The Chase Sapphire, one of my favorite cards and that of many others, offers 2x spending at restaurants and for travel.  In addition to the 2x earnings, this card also gives you a 7% bonus on all the points you have earned so actual the return on points is 2.14%.

Chase Sapphire Preferred
Chase Sapphire Preferred

If you only have the Chase Freedom card, you will then earn cash back BUT, and this is important, if you have the Chase Sapphire, the Chase Ink, the Chase Bold then the Chase Freedom card becomes a different type of credit card.  This card has different bonus categories every quarter throughout the year and you can earn up to 1500 points per quarter.  The first quarter of 2013, you could earn 5x earnings on gas station, drugstores and Starbucks.  The second quarter, it is 5 x at earnings on purchases made at Lowes, restaurants and movie theaters. You then need to have the Chase Sapphire, the Chase Ink, or the Chase Bold and then transfer the points that you earned with the Freedom (which are Ultimate Reward Points) into one of the other cards.  Confusing, slightly but it works.   If you do not have one of those credit cards, then you will be receiving a 5% cash back.

Chase Freedom
Chase Freedom

I just mentioned  the Ultimate Reward points that you get with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Freedom card and Chase’s business card.  The points you earn with these cards are called Ultimate Reward Points.  What is so great about UR points is that you have 5 airline transfer partners and 5 hotel/travel partners to transfer your points to .  The airlines that you can transfer your UR into are United (and therefore Star Alliance), Korean Air, Southwest, British Airways (and then you can book American Airlines through the BA site) and Virgin Atlantic.  These transfer over at a 1:1 ratio.  The other transfer partners are Amtrak, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz Carlton and Priority Club (Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and a few other hotels in their club), again at a 1:1 ration.

American Express has a co-branded card with Hilton hotels and with this card you will earn 5 x points on purchases made at gas stations, restaurants and supermarkets.

American Express Hilton Honors card
American Express Hilton            Honors card

The point of this is to know what each of your credit card’s bonus categories are and to try to use them to maximize your point earning ability.

Questions anyone?

Meeting your Minimum Spend on a New Credit Card

You’ve done it.  You have applied for a new credit card and after you spend $3000 in three months you’ll receive 40,000 points or whatever the card you are applying for is offering.  The problem is that you don’t need anything to purchase using a credit card that will total $3000 in the allotted time.  What’s one to do?  Hang on, I’ve got the answer to your dilemma.

Every month most of you have to pay rent, home mortgage or some other bill that you have to write a check for since they won’t accept credit cards.  Keep this thought in the back of your mind as I move forward with this thought.

American Express came out last summer with an alternative to checking accounts and debit cards.  It is called the American Express Bluebird.  You can pick one up at WalMart where they are exclusively sold. At my WalMart they are found a a display near the cashiers and cost $5.  You then go home and log on to their site www.bluebird.com and register for a permanent card OR just go to their site and order a permanent card for free.  You should receive it in the mail in about 10 days.

American Express Bluebird
American Express Bluebird

You will now need to “fund” it – in other words put some money on this card.

There are several ways to do this.  If you purchased it at WalMart you will need to put some money on it at the register.  If you have a SunTrust Delta debit card, you can use that and get Delta points for every dollar you put on the BB.  The same goes for the Alaska Air debit card.

Another option is the Vanilla Reloadable Card available at CVS and now at 7/11 stores.  *** Update – as of 4/14/14  you could no longer purchase Vanilla Reloads at CVS when using a credit card.  I have not seen Vanilla’s at 7/11 in a long time.  If you go to the Vanilla Reloadable website you can click on the tab for reload locations.  I primarily use CVS since they are always in stock at my stores near me.  You will find them in the gift card carousel.  There are a lot of cards that are called Vanilla – some are debit cards, some are gift cards – make sure your Vanilla Reloadable looks like this:

Must look like this
Must look like this

You can “load any amount from $20 to $500 all for a $3.95 fee.  I use whatever credit card I am trying to meet my minimum spend on or whatever card I want points or miles on.  I bring my card home and scratch off the silver bar over the pin number on the back of the card. I then click on the VR website and enter the number of my BB card. Below that I enter the pin number of my VR card. After I submit it, it is instantly loaded onto my BB card. You can only load $5000 per month and $1000 per day and you can only spend $5000 per month.  Basically the VR is a transfer mechanism for putting money onto your BB and getting points at the same time.

Once you have done all this you can then pay your bills just like you would with online banking. You enter the payee, the address, account number and the amount you want to pay. You cannot schedule a payment though. So, now I can get points and miles from purchasing VRs and then loading them onto my Bluebird and having the BB pay my bills for me. For your minimum spend, buy your VRs, load them onto BB, and then have BB send a payment to the credit card that you just used to purchase your VRs with.  This is called manufactured spending.

 

WalMart Money Center ATM machine
WalMart Money Center ATM machine

I personally would not take out all my money but rather do a mixture of debit for purchases and money out at an ATM.  I tend to use mine exclusively for bill payment.

Other methods are getting a Serve account and doing the same thing that you could do with Bluebird.

I would enjoy reading your comments and finding out if you find this helpful.  Please consider leaving a comment on this blog.

NOTE:  Since this was written there have been various methods of meeting your minimum spend that have come and go.  What I do now is purchase VISA gift cards in grocery stores, Simon Malls, etc in $500 amounts.  These are variable gift cards that you can load from $20 to $500.  Make sure they are issued by US Bank or Meta Bank.  IF US Bank, call the number on the back of the card to set a pin.  If Meta Bank, the pin is the last 4 digits on the card.  I then take the card and purchase a money order using the gift card, now operating like a debit card.  I’ll deposit the money order back into my bank account to be able to pay for the gift card that I initially bought.

Hot off the Presses – News from Chase

As I have mentioned before Chase credit cards tend to be my favorites for travel since they have United Airlines credit cards as well as others that give me Ultimate Reward points which I can transfer into United and therefore Star Alliance airlines.

Chase offers both personal and business credit cards.  I in fact have a business credit card from them – the Chase Ink Bold.  The benefits of this card, in addition to the 40,000 mile sign-up I received, is that it gives me 5 X points when I pay my landline, wireless, internet and cable with them.  I also get 5 X points for anything I purchase in an office supply store like Staples.  If I want to buy something at Target, I go to Staples first and buy a Target gift card at 5 X points and then proceed to Target.  Picture Charlie Sheen saying “WINNING”  You’ll be surprised at how quickly your points will grow doing this extra step.

Winning with the Chase Business cards
Winning with the Chase Business               cards

Early this morning Chase increased the signup points for their Business cards from 50,000 to 60,000 with a $5,000 minimum spend within three months.  In a post that I’ll send out tonight, I’ll teach you how to painlessly “Spend” $5000, be able to pay back your credit card – doing all this for  $40.

You might be wondering about the “business card” and thinking you are not a business – but you might be.  Do you sell items on Ebay, Etsy or craft shows?  Do you tutor?  Do you have a non-profit business?  Do you babysit?  When filling out the application form list your SSN as the EIN and fill it out as a sole proprietor with at least one employee – yourself.  Be honest about the income you derive from it.  Darius from Million Mile Secrets has the link for the credit card application (please use his link) as well as instructions on how to fill out a business credit card application here

One of the Chase Business card
One of the Chase Business card

Know which credit card you want. The Ink Bold is a charge card and you have to pay it off in full each month (as you should be doing anyway). The Ink Plus is a credit card and you can pay the balance over time. Remember – you have to be able to make the minimum spend and you should be paying it off in full each month. Don’t get in over your heads – your credit score is so important throughout your life.

Imagine being able to have two roundtrip transcontinental flights in coach and 10,000 points leftover for free!  You could fly to Europe round trip in economy.  Oh the Places you Can Go!

Credit Cards primer..a useful tool for free travel

For those that are already into the game of credit card churning, you will not need to read this post…..skip it and come back another day.  For those of you that have just one or two credit cards, would like to travel for free, travel in Business or First Class or use your points for upgrades, then please read on.  This is how we were able to travel to Australia, New Zealand and Singapore for almost free.

Most all credit cards give something back to you -points, miles, cash back or a travel allowance.  I do not have any cards that give me cash back, I would rather have the points/miles for free travel.  Since I don’t have any of the cash back cards, I won’t address them at this time.

I have some credit cards that will give me points, miles or a travel allowance.  Many of the really good cards do charge an annual fee and most of those credit card companies waive the fee for the first year.

In my mind, credit cards are divided into three main categories.  There are some that are revenue based (like Capital One Venture card) and others that are miles based (United Mileage Plus Explorer) and other that are points based (hotels, Sapphire Preferred).

A revenue based credit card, in my opinion, is not worth it.  Generally speaking, one cent equals one point.  When the Venture card first came out, they offered to match the miles you would have in another credit card reward program up to 100,000 miles.  I did sign up, got my 100,000 points.  That 100,000 points was equal to $1,000 that I could apply to travel.  I would apply this to an airplane ticket purchased through their website powered by Travelocity.  The good thing about this program is that there are no blackout dates – if a seat was available I could “purchase” it.  In my scenario,  I want to fly from Washington Dulles to Honolulu in Business Class.  A business class ticket would cost me $3518 which means that I would need 351,800 points with my Venture card from Capital One in order to purchase this ticket.  That’s a lot of points to accumulate.

If instead I chose to use my miles that I have earned with the United Mileage Plus Explorer card with United  then I would use 80,000 miles roundtrip and pay $5 in taxes and fees.  The 80,000 miles translates into $800.00.  Who is getting the better deal?   When using miles you do have to have some flexibility with your travel dates as your preferred dates may not be available in the preferred cabin choice.

Finally, I use the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card and it gives me Ultimate Reward points. These points are transferable to 5 different airlines (and it gets you into their alliances) as well as AMTRAK and 4 different hotels.  I find on the United Airline Award Booking Chart that I need 80,000 miles to book that trip to Honolulu.  I call up the number on the back of my Sapphire card and ask them to transfer 80,000 points to my United Frequent Flier account.  It transfers at a 1:1 ratio and is instantaneous.  I  can then book online for my award travel or call up the United and get transferred to the award booking department.  They will help you for $25 per person.

  For the Capital One Venture card,they will give you 10,000 points when you spend $1000 in 3 months and the points you earned in making that spend as well as no foreign transaction fees.   Your first year fee is waived.

The United Mileage Plus Explorer card through Chase would give you 30,000 after you spend $1000 in the first three months plus the points you earned is meeting that spend, your first checked bag free when you fly United, and no foreign transaction fees.  The first year fee is waived.United MileagePlus(Registered Trademark) Explorer Card

If you are interested in signing up for a Chase Sapphire credit card, as of today you will earn 40,000 Ultimate Reward points when you spend $3000 in three months.  You will also earn points from the spending that you do with this credit card and an annual 7% bonus points based on all purchases you made with the card.  You are then effectively earning 2.14 miles per dollar spent.  The first year fee is waived and finally, no foreign transaction fees.

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 NOTE:  These bonus sign up points were correct at the time this blog was written.  They have probably changed by the time you read this.

Travel can be Affordable

Before Blogger Hubby and I made our last BIG trip – the kind of trip where you go to a different hemisphere AND below the equator – we knew  that because of the length of the flight we did not want to travel in coach.  I wanted to us to fly in Business Class or First Class.  To fly this way, for us,  is cost prohibitive.  We had decided years ago (yes, it has been on my bucket list this long) to use frequent flier miles and had been religiously saving them since 2006 through our United Airline Visa credit card.  This was a trip that probably wouldn’t be repeated and I wanted to do it in comfort and be well rested so I could hit the pavement when we landed in Sydney, Australia.

 We quickly found out that we didn’t have sufficient miles even though we had close to 200,000 miles with United Airline.  I was going to do my best not to settle for coach for this long of a journey from the East Coast to Sydney.
I quickly did what any modern woman would do – I googled frequent flier  – and a whole new wonderful world opened up in front of my eyes.  There were so many blogs out there with so much information and terminology that I had never heard before.  Apparently there is this whole underground culture about frequent flier miles, how to get more, how to spend them and new promotions.  Oh, I was in blogger heaven as I dreamt about my future travel plans actually coming to fruition.
I began following Frugal Travel Guy (www.frugaltravelguy.com) when it was being written by Rick Ingersoll (he occasionally still posts there).  I would read his blog and actually email him with questions.  He was very patient with me and gave me lots of good advice.  He recognized that we needed more miles quickly and suggested that both Blogger Hubby and myself apply for the Chase Sapphire Credit Card, do the minimum spend ($3000 in four months) and get the 50,000 Ultimate Reward points that we could transfer over to our United Airline Mileage account.  For us getting  instant approval was easy since we only had about 2 credit cards at that time and we always paid them off in full each month.  We also had excellent credit scores because we did pay them off in full each month.  We did not add each other as co-signers on the credit cards but instead we each had our own card and that allowed us to get 100,000 miles in total. Since we were going on a cruise from Sydney to Auckland, we used our new credit cards to pay down our cruise and within 30 days we had our points.

Below are the Three Main Rules when signing up for credit cards:

1) know your credit score.  You can get some FAKO scores (similar to FICO scores) for free by going to http://www.quizzle.com, http://www.creditsesame.com or http://www.creditkarma.com

2) Always pay your credit card bills in full each month

3) Do not plan on purchasing a home or having a large expense within the next two year if you plan on opening more than a couple of credit cards

When you open a new credit card your credit score will take a dip, generally about 3-5 points per card but it will come up quickly, more quickly than you think.  In fact, many hard core credit card churners apply for 3-4 new cards every 91 days and then close these cards within 8-11 months so they won’t have to pay the credit card fee which is generally waived the first year.

Having many credit cards does not hurt your score as long as you pay off your cards in full every month on time. Your new credit is only about 5% of your total credit score.   I have opened ten new cards this year and my score is still in the Excellent range.  After two years these credit card hard “pulls” on your credit history drop off.  Through my credit card sign ups and after using miles to fly Business Class to Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, using points for our hotel stays in Sydney (4 nights), Auckland (1 night) and Singapore (4 nights) as well as using miles to book summer flights for Blogger Hubby I still have over 1.1 million miles.  In future posts I’ll show you how to get more than one mile per dollar spent as well as manufactured spending.

Are you interested in how much money we paid for our flights?  We flew First Class from Washington Dulles to San Francisco on United, Business Class on Asiana Airline to Seoul, Business Class again on Asiana to Sydney, Auckland to Bribane on Air New Zealand in Business Class, Brisbane to Singapore on Singapore Air in Business Class, Singapore to Beijing in economy on Singapore Air and finally Beijing to Washington Dulles in Business Class on United.  When flying Business Class have a separate line going through security, separate boarding, able to use the airline lounges for food, drink, showers and many more perks. We paid a total of $110 each for taxes.

When I sit and think of all the miles and points that I have,  I am reminded of this book:

oh the places

How do you decide what to see when traveling?

When Blogger Hubby and I go on vacation we like to know what to do at our vacation spot particularly when it is a city.  This trip might be for a couple of days, a week or even longer.  We like to maximize our time and do the most that we possible can.  Who wants to learn when you get home that you have missed something very important!

One of the first things we do is to go to Google, search the city and add the words “calendar of events” to the search.  This gives us a basis of knowing what is happening during our time there.  We did this when we recently went to Hobart, Tasmania, Australia and we found that when we were there, they were having the Wooden Boat Festival.  It would be the largest concentration of wooden boats in the southern hemisphere – over 600 boats.  We sure didn’t want to miss that!

We also go to Trip Advisor and again list the city we are going to be in and see what are the top venues that we should visit.  This site gives us reviews which we read and allow us to prioritize what we want to see.

Rick Steves, one of the gurus of traveling through Europe, has free mp3 city guides for you to download on his website.  Many people that I met in Italy were using his city guides downloads to help them navigate and explain to them what they were viewing.

A new player in the city guides is http://www.hipmunk.com  Their city guides show you how to get around, things to see and do, transportation information, best restaurants, hotels and best neighborhoods for visitors. What do you use to learn about a city or vacation spot that you will be visiting?

The Beginning

It’s happened.  I’ve succumbed to peer pressure.  I’m joining the world of bloggers…travel bloggers to be more precise.  I’m a novice at traveling but have learned so much since I began less than three years ago and I’m learning more and more every day.  I’d love to share what I have learned with you as well as learning from you and your experiences.

I love to travel and that discovery is recent.   I had taken many cruises in the Caribbean and  don’t REALLY consider that foreign travel.  I was happy with that till my husband suggested we taken a river cruise down the Rhine a few years ago. I had never been to Europe unless you count our honeymoon in Ireland decades ago as Europe.   As excited as I was, I was also a little intimidated.  I would be in several countries where other languages were spoken.  How could I manage?  Would I be able to read a menu, find a restroom, navigate the streets and public transportation and finally ask for help when we needed it?  Would I need special clothing?  Luckily I was with my husband who was more comfortable than I was with foreign travel.

Happily that trip was a success and it instilled in me a burning desire to do more travel.  Enough so that both Blogger Hubby and myself sat down and made out our individual Bucket Lists.  In some ways I was fortunate that Blogger Husband had done some foreign travel before he met me as well as with his job so we are focusing on doing some of my bucket list countries first.

I have learned how to do some research in where to go, less expensive alternatives, what to do, how to travel for a fraction of the cost and how to meet others.  I can now say that I have many more friends now from travels that I did 3 years ago. My tips and tricks are for all ages so come on this journey with me.  If you think you might be interested, click on Subscribe by Email.

”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

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