$25 In The Can — StarKist Tuna Class Action Settlement

$25 cash or $50 in tuna?

$25 cash or $50 in tuna?

Did you purchase a can of StarKist tuna between February 19, 2009 and October 31, 2014?

If so, and you are a U.S. resident, you may be eligible for a $25 cash rebate as a result of a class action lawsuit.

The lawsuit charged that some 5-ounce cans of chunk light tuna and solid white albacore tuna contained less fish than required by federal law.

The settlement gives consumers a choice of $25 in cash or $50 in tuna vouchers.
You can register for the settlement on this website.  You don’t need a receipt, but you need to swear that you purchased the tuna fish.
Be sure to read all the fine print before submitting a claim!

AAA Double Discount on Amtrak

20 Percent Discount on Amtrak

Good deal for AAA members!

Members of AAA regularly get ten percent off the price of Amtrak rail tickets.

Now, Amtrak is running a promotion for AAA members that offers a double discount of 20 percent off!

This deal is good for bookings now though September 30, 2015 for travel between September 1 and October 31, 2015.

Free Access to Consumer Reports Car Buying Guide

2000 AA miles for $14.95

2000 AA miles for $14.95

You’ve heard of magazines for miles?

How about miles for magazines?

The AAdvantage frequent flyer program of American Airlines has a new promo offer to earn 2,000 miles.

The offer involves signing up for a free 30-day trial of the Next Issue digital magazine service.  After your free trial, you can earn 2,000 AAdvantage miles if you subscribe to the service.

This is Not an Offer for 2,000 Free AAdvantage Miles!

I misread the offer and thought I could get 2,000 easy miles for signing up for Next Issue, after which I would cancel my subscription.  That is not the case.  You only earn the miles if you subscribe to the premium service for $14.95 a month, after your free trial ends.

Download the Next Issue app on iTunes

Download the Next Issue app on iTunes

I registered for the service, downloaded the Next Issue app, and took at look at the magazine offerings.

First up was the complete Consumer Reports 2016 Auto Guide.  I could access vehicle specs, crash test results, reliability data, ratings, and the results of the Consumer Reports road tests.  This is tremendously useful information for me as I am in the process of researching new cars.

Remember to cancel your registration before the 30-day trial ends or you will be charged $14.95.

If you want to spend $14.95 on a one month subscription, however, you can earn 2,000 AAdvanatage frequent flyer miles.  You can cancel your subscription at any time.

I’m Not Going to Subscribe to Next Issue

Next Issue allows you to read 100 popular magazines online or offline.

Current titles include People, US Weekly, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Time, GQ, Consumer Reports, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Parents, Dwell and dozens of others.  

Enjoy unlimited access to all the magazines you love — all in one app, for one low price — with Next Issue. Plus, earn 2,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® miles when you become a subscriber before October 1, 2015.

A subscription gives you access to past as well as current issue.

The service works on iPhones and iPads, Android phones and tablets, and Windows tablets and PCs.  I found it difficult to read magazine articles on my iPhone 5s — it’s just too small.  I don’t have a tablet, and the service won’t work on my Macbook, so I won’t be subscribing.

You can access the offer here.

Montana On My Mind, But Not With Miles and Points

Headed to Montana Soon

Montana bound on miles and points, not!

When I think of Montana, I think of mountains and rivers, glaciers and prairie, cowboys and grizzlies.

Our upcoming trip will not focus on any of those things.

Instead, we will be touring cement plants and factories, dams and bridges, historic forts and industrial ruins.

Traveling to Montana with Miles and Points — Not!

We will be participating in the Society for Industrial Archeology’s Fall Tour.  When we saw that Great Falls, Montana was the site for this year’s tour, we signed up right away.  My sister lives in nearby Helena.   This will be a great opportunity to see my sister and her family!

We will not be utilizing miles or points for this trip.  We’ll be flying in to Great Falls, and out of Helena.   I could not find a decent itinerary using frequent flyer miles.

I was very excited however, to see the Staybridge Suites in Great Falls on the IHG “points break” list for this fall.  This is a new hotel that is ranked #1 on TripAdvisor’s ranking of hotels in Great Falls.  5,000 IHG points per night would be a nice bargain.

Where to Stay in Great Falls, Montana

Sip & Dip Bar with Live Mermaids

Sip ‘n Dip Tiki Lounge with Live Mermaids at the O’Haire Motor Inn in Great Falls, Montana

We decided against the Staybridge Suites, because we wanted to stay at the conference hotel.

The conference hotel is in downtown Great Falls.  It is the O’Haire Motor Inn.

Aside from the convenience of staying with the rest of our group, the O’Haire Motor Inn looks to be a hoot.

Believe it or not, GQ Magazine named the Sip ‘n Dip Tiki Lounge at the O’Haire Motor Inn the number one bar on earth worth flying for!

This honor wasn’t just because of the live piano bar or the umbrella drinks.

The unique feature of the Sip ‘n Dip Tiki Lounge is the glass wall between the bar and the swimming pool.  There are live mermaids swimming in the pool!

* * *

This will be my first trip to Montana, but it won’t be my last.  I hope to return during the summer months to visit the National Parks in the Big  Sky state.

Airfare Deals: Jumping But Not Biting

The School Calendar Rules Travel Time

We are no longer tied to the school calendar.

My daughter graduated from high school this June (hooray!), so we are entering a new phase of life.

For the first time in 13 years, our travel plans will not be dictated by the public school calendar.

As parents well know, travel during school breaks and over the summer is considered high season in terms of airfare and hotel rates.

Flights and hotel rooms are expensive and award availability is limited.  Parents with kids in school simply don’t have the same flexibility as free agents.

We are not quite empty nesters because my daughter is living at home while attending community college.   My husband is looking forward to retirement soon.   That will expand our opportunities for leisure travel.

There are lots of places we want to go, with Japan at the top of the list.

Bargain Flights are Back!

Have you noticed that the airwaves these days are filled with airfare deals?

My inbox and twitter feed are chock full of amazing airfare bargains.

Getting in on these deals requires you to act fast and to have schedule flexibility.

But the deals are fantastic!

  • $99 to Europe.
  • $500 roundtrip to Asia.
  • $19 for domestic flights.

Check out these recent offerings posted by The Flight Deal:

The Flight Deal is One Source for Bargain Fares

The Flight Deal is One Source for Bargain Fares

In terms of frequent flyer miles, I have a stash of American Airlines and United miles, as well as some British Airways and Southwest miles.

My strategy going forward is to spend down my miles balances and to focus on cash back opportunities.

Growing Your Travel Savings Account

Earlier this year, I opened Capital One’s Venture Card.  This card earns 2 times points on all purchases.  Rewards points can be redeemed for travel expenses.

I also opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card early this year.  This card earns 2 times Ultimate Rewards Points on restaurants and travel.  These points can be transferred to the several airline partners or cashed out for statement credits.

Cash Back is King

I plan to concentrate my spending on the Venture card, with the exception of most travel purchases that will go on the Sapphire card.  Cash back is still king, but Ultimate Rewards points can be used as miles or cash.

Both the Venture card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred card carry annual fees, which are waived the first year.  I have heard it is easy to get the fee waived on the Venture card.  That is not the case for the Sapphire Preferred, so I will probably will probably cancel that card when the fee comes due.

In the meantime, I will be accumulating points in my “travel savings accounts.”  These points are a lot more liquid than miles, it part because they are good for any bargain tickets you may grab, and also because partial redemptions are possible.

Has your points collection strategy changed, in light of the raft of cheap flights?

 

 

Hack My Wallet: Gift Card Edition

The anti-giftcard giftcard

The anti-giftcard giftcard

I hate gift cards.

I think gift cards make terrible presents — Cash is a much better gift!

  • The unspent balances and fees on gift cards make a tidy profit for the people selling them.
  • Spending gift cards causes delays at the checkout counter.
  • Returns are more difficult with gift card purchases.
  • Gift cards can be lost or stolen.

There are a million more reasons why I hate gift cards, but that is a topic for another post.

This post is about each of the gift cards I have in my wallet right now, and why.

Staples Visa Gift Card — Value $20

I got this card from Staples as a rebate for purchasing $300 in Visa gift cards during a promotion.  Every few weeks, Staples runs a promotion on Visa gift cards, with a rebate that offsets the card purchase fees.  Sometimes, the rebate is in the form of a Staples gift card that must be spent at Staples.  This Staples Visa gift card is a cash equivalent that can be spent anywhere.

Clydes Gift Cards — Value $50

Amex was running a special promotion where you could get a $5 credit for a $25 purchase at various Washington area restaurants.    I purchased two $25 gift cards at Clydes, one with my Amex SPG credit card, and one with my Amex Bluebird card.  Clydes is my favorite restaurant so I know these gift cards will be put to good use.

Tara Thai Gift Card — Value $45

Tara Thai is a fabulous restaurant that participates in the Rewards Dining Program. I purchased this gift card when United Mileage Plus Dining was running a special promotion.  The gift card gives me the flexibility to participate in the promotion offer, while delaying my actual dine until a more convenient time.  I ended up missing the deadline for meeting the terms of the promotion, so I just earned 5 times Ultimate Rewards Points on this.

Lonestar Steakhouse Gift Card — Value $40

Lonestar Steakhouse is another participant in the Rewards Dining Program.   I think when I picked up this gift card I had it confused with Texas Roadhouse.  Lonestar Steakhouse is pretty far from where we live so we’ll have to go out of our way to use this.

Whole Foods Gift Card — Value $6.70

Amex Offers was offering a $15 statement credit for a $75 purchase at Whole Foods.  By purchasing a gift card, I am able to earn the credit, while redeeming for small purchases at Whole Foods at my leisure.

Home Depot Gift Card — Value $100

I purchase Home Depot gift cards at Staples using a Chase Ink card that pays 5 times points on all purchases at office supply stores.  I give the gift cards to our contractor to purchase supplies for our home renovation.

Amazon Gift Cards — $100

I picked up an Amazon gift card at Office Depot recently, where I earn 5 times points on my Chase Ink card.  My daughter started college recently and we purchase some of her textbooks on Amazon.

Home Improvement Gift Card — $200

This is another Office Depot purchase.  Home Improvement Gift Cards are sold without a fee, and can be used at either Lowes or Home Depot, as well as a number of other stores.

Starbucks Gift Card — $32

I purchase Starbucks gift cards at Staples and load them to my iPhone.  I usually pick up something from Starbucks if there is an outlet in the airport.

Exxon Gift Cards — $100

Currently, I am putting my gas purchases on my Chase Freedom credit card because of the quarterly 5 times bonuses on gas purchases.  I purchased these  Exxon gift cards at Office Depot, but won’t use them until October when the Chase Freedom bonus categories change.

CVS — $10

Honestly I can’t remember where I obtained a paper gift card worth $10 at any CVS drugstore.  It will be a miracle if I remember to use it!  I do know that some Office Depot stores sell CVS gift cards.

What’s in My Wallet?  $700 Worth of Gift Cards

I totalled up these various gift cards and am appalled to report that I am carrying around $700 worth of gift cards.  That is overkill, for sure.

First off it is way too much cash equivalent to have in my purse.

Second, that is an awful lot of money to have tied up in gift cards rather than earning interest in the bank.

It is just as necessary to keep tabs on your gift cards as it is on your bank account or credit card balances.  It looks like I need to be more deliberate about slimming down my wallet!

Are Gift Card Purchases Worth It?

Let’s tote up the bonuses I earned on these gift cards.

  • Ultimate Reward points:  4,160 points
  • Amex statement credits:  $25
  • United Mileage Plus miles: 425 miles

This is pretty small potatoes.  After accounting for the time and gas spent driving around to purchase these gift cards, you might conclude that its not worth stuffing your wallet with gift cards, remembering to use them, and holding up the checkout line for such trivial bonuses.

On the other hand, you might find that small bonuses add up to big rewards if you consistently pursue all opportunities.

Where do you come down?  Are gift cards part of your miles and points strategy?

Flip Out at the Paris Pinball Museum

Paris Pinball Museum is rich in history.

Paris Pinball Museum is rich in history.

4.5 of 5 starsGiven that the Pinball Hall of Fame is now #13 of 692 things to do in Las Vegas on Trip Advisor, I wanted to put in a plug for another fabulous pinball gallery.  

The Paris Pinball Museum is an incredible historical collection of slot machines, jukeboxes and over one hundred pinball machines from every era, from the 1930’s to the present.
Every one of the games is top condition and in working order!

Play All You Want at the Paris Pinball Museum

You need an advance reservation to visit the Paris Pinball Museum, which is only open on weekends.

The Paris Pinball Museum also features one armed bandits.

The Paris Pinball Museum also features one armed bandits.

A $15 Euro admission ticket grants you access to play all the games as much as you want.
The owner, Raphael Lanker, was kind enough to arrange an opportunity for us to visit, even though he was away at the time.
Lanker has been in pinball since the 1950’s, and his love for the game is evident in the collection he maintains.
All the games at the Paris Pinball Museum are set to free play.

All the games at the Paris Pinball Museum are set to free play.

Each room in the museum is devoted to another decade.

There are an abundance of the wood-railed machines from the 1940’s, especially Gottlieb machines.
 The Paris Pinball Museum is a blast from the past!
If there is time in your schedule, you may wish to include a visit to the museum on your next trip to Paris!
The artwork on the back glasses is amazing.

The artwork on the backglasses is amazing.  Sky Line is a personal favorite!

Holiday Inn Paris: The Curious Incident of the Buzz in the Night Time

Sleuthing in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Paris - Notre Dame

Sleuthing in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame

You don’t go to Paris to stay at a cookie-cutter chain hotel.

Crazy that I am, I booked five nights at the Holiday Inn Paris Notre Dame, for half of our summer vacation in Paris.

The reason, of course, was hotel points.

I had enough IHG points from a credit card bonus to get two free nights at a Holiday Inn hotel, and I was not going to let those points go to waste!

A Surprise Tropical Oasis at the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame

The reason I chose the Holiday Inn- Paris Notre Dame was location.  The hotel is literally steps from the St. Michel Metro station and the RER train station.  It sits right on the border between the Latin Quarter and St. Germain de Pres.  It is within walking distance of just about everything.

View of the rooftops from our balcony at the Holiday Inn Paris -- Notre Dame

Romantic view of Paris rooftops from our balcony at the Holiday Inn Paris — Notre Dame

What really intrigued me about the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame, however, was the rooftop bar that provides generous views of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.

The rooftop bar did not disappoint.  It was spellbinding to watch the sun set over the rooftops of Paris.

Another bonus was the charming garden off the hotel lobby, complete with a koi pond and tropical vegetation.

Koi Pond at the Holiday Inn Paris - Notre Dame

Koi Pond in the garden at at the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame

However, the decor of the hotel was quite garish, like a fuschia throwback to the 1970’s.  You can see pictures of the rooms on TripAdvisor.

It turns out our neighbors had stayed there a couple of years ago.  “It’s not very Parisian,” they said.

We were assigned to a tiny room on the first floor, with a bizarre large window between the bedroom and the bathroom.

Holiday Inn Paris Notre Dame:  Things That Go Buzz in the Night

Upon returning to the Holiday Inn after a full day walking around Paris, I fell fast asleep.

Around 10 p.m., I was awakened by a security guy searching our room.

There was a strange buzzing going on, that my husband reported to the front desk.

We couldn’t locate the source of the buzzing.  It sounded like it may be coming from the bathtub.  No.  Was it coming from the desk, or maybe from the closet?

The security man brought in a ladder and removed a ceiling tile.  Nothing up there.  Then he turned off the electricity to see if the buzzing would stop.  No luck there.  He left to search the adjoining rooms to see if he could identify the source of the persistent buzzing.

Lovely tropical garden at the Holiday Inn Paris- Notre Dame

Lovely tropical garden at the Holiday Inn Paris- Notre Dame

After an hour of this, it was getting ridiculous.  It would be impossible to get back to sleep under these conditions.

The security guy radioed the front desk and said we would have to be relocated to another room.  The desk clerk agreed.

Unfortunately, the hotel was fully booked for the night, and we would have to move to another hotel.

We packed our bags and headed down to the lobby.

I guessed that they would move us to another Holiday Inn.  “Do you mind waiting?” the desk clerk asked.  “There’s nothing available.   Paris is completely booked tonight.”

Hotel Danube Paris, a More Traditional Accommodation

Half an hour later, she had secured a room and breakfast for us at what she promised was a very nice hotel not too far away.

Lobby of the Hotel Danube Paris

Lobby of the Hotel Danube Paris

She called us a cab, and we were whisked off to the Hotel Danube Paris on Rue Jacob in the 6th arrondissement.

I was up for the adventure — this would give us the opportunity to see another hotel and another neighborhood!

The Hotel Danube Paris is a typical Parisian hotel.  It is a family-owned, solid three star hotel.  There was a small courtyard where you can take breakfast.  The lobby is decorated with ornate green wallpaper.

Courtyard at Hotel Danube Paris

Charming Courtyard at Hotel Danube Paris

We arrived very late at night, and were lucky to get a large, comfortable room with an enormous bathroom.  It was the Hotel Danube’s most expensive room, a “Prestige” room.

This is the kind of place I can imagine returning on a future visit to Paris.

The next morning, we reported back to the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame.  The reception staff was most apologetic.  I don’t think they ever located the source of the buzzing.

In exchange for our trouble, we were upgraded to an “Executive” room on the sixth floor for the remainder of our stay.

View from our balcony at the Holiday Inn Paris - Notre Dame

View from our private balcony at the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame

This “Executive” room was easily twice the size of our first room.  It had a windows stretching the length of the room.

There was a balcony large enough for two chairs and a table.  The balcony was shaded by vines and quite private. It had a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower.

The reception staff said that we would find a welcome amenity in our room.  Yes, there was a Twix bar and a water bottle on the desk.  Was this the amenity?

When we returned from dinner, we spotted another gift:  a bottle of wine; and a beautiful book of water color paintings of Paris:  Une Aquarelliste à Paris.  

This was a touching gesture and will make a nice keepsake of our time in Paris.

Book of Watercolor Prints of Paris

Book of Watercolor Prints of Paris

Book the Room, Not the Hotel

The moral of the story is that in Paris, and many other places, there is a big difference between the standard room and a superior room at the same hotel.

Our perception of these two disparate hotels was greatly influenced by the room quality.

On a points stay, you are eligible for a standard room.

If you have status with the hotel, by virtue of holding a branded credit card, you may be upgraded to a larger room.  Or maybe not.

If you are a cheapskate like me you may be reluctant to choose anything but the standard room.  Based on this experience, I would advocate searching for a nicer room at a less expensive hotel before making a decision.  In Paris, the difference between a four star hotel and a three star hotel may be whether there is a restaurant and a bar in the hotel, or an elevator, or other features that you might not care deeply about.

This post contains affiliate links.  Thanks if you choose to use them!

$50 Uber Rebate for Amex Business Cardholders

$50 Rebate on Uber

$50 Rebate on Uber

Uber is on a marketing binge and their latest offer is for American Express business cardholders.

This latest offer is for up to a $50 rebate, the most generous promotion I have seen.

To qualify, you must sign up for an “Uber for Business” account and enroll two additional employees.  You must use a Business Card from American Express OPEN to sign up.

If you or your employees take at least two rides via the Uber app by September 30, 2015, you will receive a statement credit for up to $50 on your linked Amex business card account.

Terms and Conditions of the Uber for Business $50 Rebate Offer

TO RECEIVE THE LIMITED TIME OFFER, BETWEEN 7/15/15 THROUGH 9/30/15 (I) ENROLL IN AN UBER FOR BUSINESS ACCOUNT USING YOUR BUSINESS CARD FROM AMERICAN EXPRESS OPEN, (II) ENROLL TWO ADDITIONAL EMPLOYEES IN YOUR NEWLY CREATED UBER ACCOUNT, AND THEN (III) COMPLETE AT LEAST TWO RIDES, REQUESTED VIA THE UBER MOBILE APP, USING THAT UBER ACCOUNT AND CHARGED TO YOUR LINKED BUSINESS CARD (“QUALIFYING RIDES”). QUALIFYING RIDES MUST BE COMPLETED ON OR BEFORE 9/30/15. IF YOU QUALIFY FOR A REBATE, THE REBATE AMOUNT WILL BE EQUAL TO THE TOTAL AMOUNT OF CHARGES FOR QUALIFYING RIDES, UP TO A MAXIMUM VALUE OF $50. REBATES WILL BE PROVIDED AS A CHARGE BACK FROM UBER TO YOUR LINKED BUSINESS CARD. REBATES WILL BE PROVIDED WITHIN 4 WEEKS AFTER THE END OF THE OFFER PERIOD, PROVIDED THAT AMERICAN EXPRESS RECEIVES A CHARGE BACK FROM UBER FOR YOUR REBATE.

I have yet to try Uber.  Readers, will you take advantage of this offer?  

Ain’t No Cure for the Radisson Blu(es)

Is it worth it to keep the Club Carlson credit card?

Is it worth it to keep the Club Carlson credit card?

U.S. Bank sent me a letter today thanking me for being a loyal Club Carlson Visa cardholder.

The reward for my loyalty?  7,500 bonus points.

This is an interesting development, considering that in the last few months, Club Carlson has decimated the value of their credit card by eliminating the second night free benefit and by raising the points required for a reward night at all their best properties.

If you did not receive a similar bonus, I suggest calling U.S. Bank, at 800-236-7546.

I was all set to cancel my Club Carlson Visa business card when the $60 annual fee comes due next month.

But after reading an article by Freequent Flyer about how the new one free night annual benefit will work, I am reconsidering.

Basically, you will be awarded a one-night free cert (for use in U.S. hotels only) upon paying the annual fee, if you have spent $10,000 on the card in the prior year.

After checking my account, I realized that I have already met the spending threshold.

In August, if I pay the $60 annual fee, I will earn 40,000 points.  My current balance is 30,000 points.  Thus, I would have enough for one award night, and one free night at a hotel like the Radisson Martinique on Broadway which charges 70,000 points for an award night.  In general, two “free” nights is worth more to me than one “free” night, because reduces the likelihood of having to pay for a second night at the same hotel on  a weekend trip.

Had I not already met the spending threshold, it would not be worthwhile for me to hold on to the Club Carlson Visa card.  That’s because I would rather use a 2 percent cash back card like my Venture card if I were to spend $10,000.  That would get me $200 to spend on travel, and I know I could find a nice New York City hotel on Priceline for less than that.  $200 plus a $60 annual fee is not a good value for one night.

Have you decided what to do?  Are you quitting Club Carlson or hanging on?