What are Your Frequent Flyer Pet Peeves?

Frequent Flyer Pet Peeves Survey

What’s the worst thing about frequent flyer programs?

Frequent Business Traveler and FlyerTalk are running a survey on the most annoying aspects of frequent flyer programs.

With input from frequent flyers, the survey sponsors have complied a list of pet peeves with the award redemption process.  

They ask you to rank order your most annoying award redemption problems.

This survey caught my attention because one of my biggest pet peeves is that many mainstream miles and points bloggers do not tell the full story about frequent flyer programs.

I started Fishing4Deals to provide objective information about the pros and cons of various programs.

My number one concern with the award redemption process is that low-level award tickets are often unavailable when I want to fly.

As Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagen said:

I always thought that the way these agreements worked were that if I flew a certain number of miles on your plan, I was going to get a free ticket.  If I knew that it was really up to you to give me the free ticket . . . I don’t think that I’d be spending all this time in the air on your planes. You know, I’d find another company that actually gave me the free ticket.

To rank your top pet peeves, head over to the survey site by November 30, 2014.

What are your biggest frustrations?  Is this survey on target?

The Culture Flyer — Half Price Show Tickets in Baltimore

Culture Fly: Half Price Events in Baltimore

Culture Fly: Half Price Events in Baltimore

New York has TKTS.  Washington has TicketPlace. And Baltimore has Culture Fly.

Every Thursday, the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance sends out the Culture Flyer — a guide to free and half price performances and events for the coming week.

You won’t find tickets to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra or to traveling Broadway shows here.

But there are plenty of offers for free and half-price theater and dance events, art openings, concerts, and other fun stuff.

If you are interested in the offbeat and the avant-guard, Baltimore definitely beats straight-laced Washington, DC!

Culture Fly: Half Price Events in Baltimore

Culture Flyer: Weekly Newsletter

For example, this week the Culture Flyer features:

  • Rocky Horror Show at Spotlighters Theatre
  • Cabaret Macabre by Happenstance Theater
  • Bay Street Brassworks Concert
  • 3-D Printing Lab for Teens

and dozens of other discounted offerings.

You can find the Culture Fly calendar online, or you can sign up to receive weekly emails of the Culture Flyer newsletter.

 

How Secure are Mail Orders from Gift Card Mall?

How Secure are Your Purchases from Gift Card Mall?

How Secure are Your Purchases from Gift Card Mall?

Gift Card Mall is an online vendor of various gift cards.  They sell directly, via Ebay, and they service other sellers such as office supply stores.

To enhance security, Gift Card Mall typically mails the card in one envelope, and an “activation code” in a separate envelope.  The activation code is needed to register your card online, or to use the card to make purchases.

In theory, this practice makes sense.  If someone steals a gift card from your mailbox, they will not be able to use it without the activation code.

How Secure are Mail Orders from Gift Card Mall?

Recently, I purchased a gift card from Staples. The card arrived promptly in a plain envelope from Gift Card Mall.

However, when I tried to register the card, I was informed that the card had not been activated.

After several days, I still had not received the activation code.

I called Gift Card Mall in inquire about what to do.  The customer service rep asked me for some identifying information, such as my street address, and the order number.  This information was sufficient to validate the gift card.

The hitch is that all this identifying information was contained in the enclosure that came with the gift card.

So if someone had stolen the envelope, they would have all the information needed to activate the card, sans an activation code.  Here’s a link to report any suspected mail theft to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Is mail theft something that you worry about, or am I just being paranoid?

A Scammer in the Ukraine Hacked My Chase Ink Card

How to Avoid Credit Card Fraud

Protect Yourself from Credit Card Fraud

You can never be too careful.  The other day I was checking my credit card accounts online, when I noticed an unfamiliar charge for $440. This was very strange, because the charge appeared on a closed account!  (A couple of months ago, Chase had closed my MasterCard Ink Plus card and swapped it for a Visa Ink Plus.)

I called Chase bank, and we determined that the charge for a car rental in the Ukraine was indeed fraudulent.  I was assured by the customer service rep that I would not be liable for the charge and that the account would in fact be permanently closed.

A week later, the Ukrainian car rental charge appeared on my statement.  I called again, and this time I was referred to the fraud department, and then to the investigations department, to rectify the situation.  Again, I was told that account would be closed and that I would not be responsible for the fraudulent charge.

The Gigantic JP Morgan Chase Hack

Chase told me that this fraudulent charge had nothing to do with the hackers that broke into JP Morgan Chase’s computer systems and stole more than 80 million customers’ personal information, including their names, emails, physical addresses and phone numbers.   According to the bank, hackers didn’t manage to steal usernames, passwords, account numbers or Social Security numbers.  This was not very reassuring!

Guard Against Credit Card Fraud

Here’s a word for the wise:  check your online statements frequently and be on the lookout for unfamiliar charges.  This is especially true if your credit card bills are on automatic pay.

Here’s an article from the Federal Trade Commission on what you can do to protect against credit card fraud.

Has your credit card account ever been compromised?  How did you handle it?  Please share in the comments.

Can I Interest You in a Free Glass of Sparkling Wine, or Perhaps Free Dessert?

MasterCard Concierge App

MasterCard Concierge App, Free on iTunes

If you have a World or World Elite U.S. Mastercard, you may be interested in the new MasterCard Concierge app, available for free on iTunes.

The App is your key to finding special offers and discounts at restaurants at select locations in the U.S. and Canada.

Most of the restaurants included to date are fancy steak houses or expensive French bistros, but there are also Japanese, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern offerings.

MasterCard Concierge App

MasterCard Concierge App

The typical offer is for a free glass of sparkling wine or a free dessert to accompany your meal.

You’re not going to get rich off these offers.

But the Concierge app may come in handy some day if you find yourself headed to a participating restaurant in a big city like Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco, Montreal, or Las Vegas.

You must call or email the MasterCard Concierge to access the offers.

Credit Cards Eligible for the MasterCard Concierge Program

Examples of cards that may be eligible include the Barclaycard Arrival and Arrival Plus, as well as the The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® and the The Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite MasterCard®.   

The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® is currently offering  40,000 bonus miles after your first purchase and payment of the $89 annual fee.

This is a pretty good deal for accruing U.S. Airways Dividend Miles, because there is no minimum spend requirement to worry about.  40,000 Dividend Miles could come in handy with the American/USAir merger underway, and the upcoming merger of their frequent flyer programs.  I got this card for that very reason.

The Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite MasterCard® offers 35,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.

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

Hidden City Ticketing — Revealed

SKIPlagged App:  Free on iTunes

SKIPlagged App: Free on iTunes

Airfares often defy logic.

Why is a ticket from Washington DC to Salt Lake City more expensive than a ticket from Washington, DC to Las Vegas — with a stop in Salt Lake City?

How can you search for so-called “hidden city” or “throwaway”tickets?

Well, there’s an app for that!

SKIPlagged Finds Cheapest Airfares via Throwaway Ticketing

Skiplagged

HNL to LAX

Skiplagged, available for free in the iTunes store (and also available for Android phones), identifies the lowest available fares for a route.

It takes the guess work out of what city you should use as the final destination when searching for throwaway fares.

Here’s an example, illustrated by screen shots from the Skiplagged app.

Lets say you wanted to fly one-way from Honolulu (HNL) to Los Angeles (LAX) on  October 14.

Skiplagged

HNL to OAK via LAX

There is a nonstop flight on Delta Airlines for $394.

If you run the search on Skiplagged, you see that the same flight continues on to Oakland (OAK) for a total fare of just $207.

That’s quite a difference!

Of course, you will have to search for a return ticket, and compare the results with the cost of a round-trip ticket.

Travel Hacking 101:  The Do’s and Don’ts of Throwaway Tickets

Be aware that throwaway ticketing violates most airlines’ Terms of Service (except perhaps Southwest Airlines).

You risk being kicked out of the frequent flyer program, having your miles confiscated, and even being banned from the airline.

It’s not against the law, but it is a very risky practice.

Some experts offer these cautionary notes:

  • Good for one-way tickets only
  • Don’t check bags
  • Don’t use your frequent flyer number

The makers of the Skiplagged app suggest several sources for more information: Continue reading

This Cash Rewards Credit Card Pays 5% on Gas, Groceries, Restaurants, & Utilities

TD Bank Cash Rewards Credit Card

TD Bank Cash Rewards Credit Card – $200 cash back and no annual fee

Travel rewards credit cards are great, but a card that pays five percent cash back on some of the biggest expense categories  in my budget is hard to beat!

As a TD Bank customer, I received an offer in the mail for the new TD Cash Rewards credit card.

The offer for this no annual fee card was for $200 cash back after spending $500 within ninety days of opening the account.

The publicly available offer is for a $100 statement credit after spending $500.

The card normally pays 1x points on all purchases, but for the first six billing cycles, TD Bank is offering 5x points for these categories of spending:  

  • Utilities, including:  water, electric, landline, cell phone, and cable
  • Restaurants
  • Gas
  • Groceries

Continue reading

Chef Jose Andres’ All You Can Eat Paella for $20

Unlimited Paella at Jaleo Bethesda and Crystal City

Unlimited Paella at Jaleo Bethesda and Crystal City

Chef Jose Andres is Washington DC’s best known celebrity chef.  He has several restaurants in the area that serve genuine Spanish food, as well as two top restaurants in Las Vegas.

Last Sunday, we enjoyed tapas at the Bethesda branch of Jaleo.  It’s a fun place with indoor/outdoor seating and tables made of foos ball games.

The food was outstanding, though pricey!

We wanted to order the paella, but a minimum of six diners were required to do so.

At the end of the evening, they handed us a card advertising their Paella and Sangria Mondays — with unlimited paella, an individual salad and flan for $25 per person.  The Bethesda restaurant also offers unlimited Sangria for $15 per person.

Unlimited Paella $20 Per Person on Sundays

It turns out there is an even better offer available at the Pentagon City location of Jaleo on Sundays.

For $20 per person, you get gazpacho, unlimited paella, salad, and flan!

At this price I wouldn’t expect a seafood paella, but rather a vegetarian option or perhaps chicken and mushrooms.

Quite the deal!

Enter Now for Chance to See British Airways Airbus A380 Inaugural Flight into Dulles

Discover Dulles BA Airbus Inauqural Flight

Discover Dulles British Airlines Airbus Inaugural Flight

The British Airways Airbus A380 is making its inaugural flight from London Heathrow into Dulles International Airport (IAD) on October 2, 1014.

38 lucky people will invited to view the landing and get a behind the scenes tour of the Ramp Control Towers and Operations at IAD.

I attended one of these “Discover Dulles” events this summer and it was lots of fun!

Click here to enter the contest for a chance to be a part of this historical event.

Contest entries opened Friday, September 26, 2014 and will close on Tuesday, September 30, 2014 at 12:00 am (Eastern Time).

Participants will be randomly selected and notified via email by on September 30.

Hat Tip to Trevor at Tagging Miles.

Does 60x Club Carlson Points Make You Swoon?

Club Carlson's Weekdays Triple Points Offer

Club Carlson’s Weekdays Triple Points Offer

I recently enjoyed a fabulous award stay at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway in New York City.

As a Club Carlson credit card holder, I was eligible for the stay one night, get one night free deal on award stays, so the cost of my two-night stay was 50,000 Club Carlson points.

I enjoyed the hotel so much that I am looking for ways to replenish my points account!

Stacking Club Carlson Promos

Club Carlson is always running a bunch of promo offers and special rates.  Each offer applies to a select list of hotels and you need to read the fine print to make sure you qualify.  Sometimes, it is possible to stack promos, so that your earn bonus points on several offers with the same reservation.

The tricky thing is that the special offer may not always be the best rate.

Club Carlson is currently running a 3,000 point bonus if you book your stay using their mobile app through November 16, 2014.  This is good for up to three bookings, for a total of potentially 9,000 points.

Club Carlson is also running a promo for 7,500 American Advantage points if you book two stays at participating Radisson Hotels.

You can combine these offers with the “Business Time Triple Points” offer to boost your points earnings.

Would you rather earn 3x times points (equivalent to 60x points for cardholders) or get 30 percent off your stay?

You really have to play around with the promo codes and look at all the rates options and offers to find the best deal.

Sometimes, the most advantageous rate of all may be the old, reliable AAA discount.

60x Gold Points on Weekday Stays

You can earn triple Club Carlson points when you stay at select Radisson Hotels and Country Inns & Suites on weekdays.

Try using the promo code BIZTIME3 for Sunday through Thursday nights at participating hotels now through November 30, 2014.

With this promo code, you can earn 40 Bonus Gold Points® per dollar spent on room nights. These bonus Points are in addition to the standard 20 Gold Points per dollar spent on eligible stays, for a total of 6o Gold Points per dollar.

There is a long list of properties in the U.S. and in some Latin American Countries that are participating in this promotion.

Stay Two Nights, Get Third Night Free on Weekends

Club Carlson's Weekend Extender

Club Carlson’s Weekend Extender Promo — Stay two nights, get third night free

If you are traveling on the weekend, be sure to check if your hotel may be eligible for Club Carlson’s Weekend Extender promotion.  You pay for two nights but you stay for three!

Book your three day weekend using the promo code  WEEKENDX for extended weekend stays at participating hotels now through November 30, 2014.  The stay must include a combination of either a Friday and Saturday night, or a Saturday and Sunday night. Continue reading

eStandby Upgrade Options at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway

Original Mosaic Floor in Lobby of the Radisson Martinique

Original Mosaic Floor in Lobby of the Radisson Martinique

We recently spent a delightful weekend at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway in New York City.

This hotel is part of the Club Carlson chain, and I was lucky enough to secure a two-night stay for 50,000 points with their “second night free” option for Club Carlson credit card holders.

I earned the points as a bonus when I opened the Club Carlson credit card, and paid the annual fee of $60 for the business card.  Thus technically speaking, two free nights cost me $60.

Are the eStandby Upgrades Worth It?

When I booked my stay online, I was offered the option of several eStandby upgrades.

  1. High Floor:  Enjoy your stay about the streets of NYC, $30 extra per night ($40 value);
  2. Martinque Club Level – 1 King bed, includes a complimentary breakfast and access to the Executive lounge, $0 extra per night ($75 value); or
  3. Executive Suite - 1 King bed, separate living room area with sofa bed, complementary buffet breakfast and access to the Executive lounge, $69 Extra per night ($100 value.)

The deal is that you find out at check-in if you are awarded any of the add-on offers, and if so, you are obligated to pay the up charge.

I chose option 2, which had no added cost.  I didn’t particularly care about being on the Club Level, because I had heard they didn’t serve refreshments there like at many other hotels, but the notion of free breakfast seemed worth a try.

Free Breakfast Vouchers at the Hotel Martinque in NYC

Ad things turned out, I was not offered the upgrade when checking-in.  But I had a back-up option:  the Radisson Martinque App!  The iPhone app contains a coupon that you can redeem for a free breakfast buffet.

I was surprised when the front desk clerk provided vouchers for the full breakfast buffet for two mornings.  I was traveling with my sister and my daughter, so we received 6 free breakfast vouchers in total.  The regular price of the breakfast buffet is $29.95 per person.

Because I had Gold status (a perk of holding the Club Carlson credit card) I received a welcome gift of a small box of Belgian chocolates.

The breakfast buffet offered lots of choices, including fresh fruit, tomatoes and cucumbers, cheese, bacon, omelets, home fries, french toast, pastries, cereals, juice and coffee.  It wasn’t the best breakfast buffet I’ve ever seen — I certainly wouldn’t pay $30 for it — but it offered a nice selection, and it enabled us to get an early start on our day.

What I Loved About the Martinque on Broadway

  • 1.5 block walk from Penn Station
  • Clean, comfortable rooms, and fairly large for NYC
  • Free wifi
  • Literally on top of the Subway station and an easy walk to midtown or SoHo
  • A park across the street
  • Belgian chocolates on your pillow at night
  • In Korea town, across the street from Macy’s, and near many cheap jewelry stores
  • Beautifully preserved historic hotel with gorgeous mosaics in the lobby and a 15-story marble spiral staircase
  • International clientele including many airline personnel
  • Genuinely friendly staff and good service
  • Free bottled water in your room and a Keurig coffeemaker

What I Didn’t Like

Continue reading

Fifteen Broadway Musical Theme Songs: Free on iTunes

Broadway.org App, Free on iTunes

Broadway.org App, Free on iTunes

My amazing Uncle Bernie is turning 95 years old, and to celebrate, he wanted a night on the town.

I am headed up to New York for the celebratory dinner and show.

To prepare for the trip, I loaded up my iPhone with various New York City apps — transit maps, museum info, discount theatre tickets, and the like.

Broadway.org App Offers 15 Free Broadway Hit Songs

One app I found is the Broadway.org app; it’s available for free on iTunes.

Broadway.org

Broadway.org

Broadway.org is The Broadway League’s official source for information on Broadway shows in New York City, as well as for shows on tour across the country.

The app provides up-to-date show and theatre information, including information on last-minute lotteries for greatly discounted tickets to Broadway musicals.

To get you in the mood, the app

Download These 15 Songs for Free

Download These 15 Songs for Free

provides a code that you can redeem for 15 free Broadway tunes in the iTunes store.

The code is good through November 30, 2014.  

The free songs are the signature songs from 15 top Broadway hit shows.

This is the perfect entertainment for the train ride up to New York!

 

 

 

Rocking This Month’s Safeway Gift Card Promo

Safeway Gift Card Promo 9/2014

Safeway Gift Card Promo 9/2014

Most every month, Safeway has been running some sort of gift card promotion.  This month’s promo looks to be a pretty good deal.

If you purchase two Visa or MasterCard variable load gift cards, you get a coupon for $15 off your next purchase at Safeway.  (There is a minimum purchase requirement of  $25 on your next purchase.)

My usual routine is to purchase the gift cards first, and then do my grocery shopping, so I don’t have to worry about the coupon expiring or losing track of it.

I purchased two Visa gift cards and loaded them with $500 apiece.  There is a purchase fee of $5.95 each.  The net value of the rebate is just $3.10 ($15.00 – 11.90), but I was able to earn points on my Amex Starwood card for the purchase.

The offer runs from September 10, 2014 through October 7, 2014.

Dulles Flyer: Tampa Roundtrip for $88…Leaves Tomorrow

Flying Tonight App

Flight Tonight! app, free from iTunes

I’m a sucker for retro graphics so of course I had to download the new Flight Tonight! app available for free from the iTunes store.

This app is for spontaneous travelers who are trawling for cheap flights from their home airport.

It arrays flight information in a new way — by displaying the cheapest available roundtrip flights leaving from your location tonight and tomorrow morning.

Flight Tonight!:  Where Can You Fly This Weekend?

I checked out a number of departure cities to see if there were any deals.

Flight Tonight App

Where can you fly this weekend?

Nothing interesting popped up.

But when I tried my home region (WAS) (for Washington, DC area airports) there was a real bargain:  $88 roundtrip, nonstop to Tampa, Florida!

The app indicated that the fare was available for a number of itineraries — a 2-day, 4-day, 6-day, 7-day,  or 9-day trip.

The flight was on Frontier Airlines, which commenced flying from Dulles International Airport in August 2014.

Thank goodness we finally have a low cost carrier flying out of Dulles.  Maybe we will start to see some real competition for a change.

Flight Tonight Departures from IAD

Flight Tonight Departures to Tampa from IAD

All prices shown are round-trip, and taxes and fees are supposed to be included (but may not be, so double check.)

The Flight Tonight! app displays both domestic and international destinations.

This app isn’t for everyone.  But if you are flexible, and looking for a cheap getaway, this Flight Tonight! arrays possible destinations in a convenient manner.

Who would have thought you could pick up last minute tickets to Tampa this cheap?

Get in Free to Richmond’s Historic Home Museums

Richmond Virginia Time Travelers Passport

Free Admission to 10 Historic House Museums in Richmond, VA September 13-14, 2014

Residents of Washington, DC are spoiled by easy access to free museums.

Here’s a reason to expand your horizons and travel to Richmond, Virginia.

On September 13th and 14th, 2014, ten historic home museums in Richmond are putting out the welcome mat and offering free admission.

Free Admission to Richmond’s Historic Home Museums — No Strings Attached

Ten of Richmond’s historic homes and museums will offer visitors a passport to time-travel during a special admission-free weekend on Saturday and Sunday, September 13 and 14, 2014.

Ten participating sites will offer complimentary admission to visitors who show a Time Travelers Passport available for free online. 

The ten museums are:   

If you manage to max out this offer, it equates to savings of more than $55 per person.  Here’s the link for more information.  

Some of the highlights include:

 Agecroft Hall was first built in England in the 1500s, then transported across the ocean and rebuilt in Richmond in the 1920s. The Tudor mansion is furnished with art and artifacts from 17th century England and there are manicured gardens overlooking the James River.

The John Marshall House, built in 1790 in the fashionable Court End neighborhood of Richmond, was the home of the Chief Justice for forty-five years. Listed on the National and Virginia historic registers, the John Marshall House has undergone remarkably few changes in the last 200 years.

The Poe Museum holds the world’s largest collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s manuscripts, letters,  memorabilia and personal belongings.  The Poe Museum provides a peek into early nineteenth century Richmond where the author of  The Raven lived and worked.  One of the structures in the museum’s four-building complex is the 1754 Old Stone House, the oldest residential structure within city limits.

Maymont, a 100-acre estate, was the home of businessman James Dooley and his wife Sallie from 1893 through the 1920s.  The Maymont Mansion with 21 restored rooms offers a complete depiction of upstairs-downstairs life in the Gilded Age.  The upstairs interiors are adorned with Tiffany stained glass, and frescoed ceilings and filled with original furnishings and artwork.  Downstairs service rooms tell the story of household tasks and technology and the challenges of working in domestic service during the Jim Crow era.  The surrounding landscape features Italian and Japanese gardens, and a carriage display as well a children’s farm and nature center.

Wilton House Museum overlooks a placid stretch of the James River.  It was constructed in the 1750s as the centerpiece of a tobacco plantation by the prominent Randolph Family.  An impressive example of 18th-century Georgian Style architecture, Wilton House boasts its original detailed paneling and a collection of fine and decorative arts from the Colonial and early Federal eras.

That Time My Husband Forgot to Pay the Credit Card Bill

What to do if you forget to pay the credit card billI’ll cut to the chase.  If you ever miss a credit card payment and are socked with big fees and interest charges,  you can call the bank and ask them to waive the fees and charges.

Don’t make a habit of this.  But if it is a rare occurrence, and a genuine mistake, the bank may forgive your lapse.

If You Miss a Payment, Call the Bank

This month, my husband was set to pay his Chase United Mileage Plus card via an electronic payment.  He had scheduled the payment, but failed to “verify the details.”

As a result, he missed the payment deadline, and was socked with a $25 late payment fee and over $32 in interest charges.

The statement warned that if he was late on another payment, they could charge him a $35 late fee and an interest rate of 29.99 percent.  What’s more, a lapse like this could adversely impact his credit score.

In this case, he called the bank and offered to pay the bill in full immediately,  The customer service rep said they would remove all the fees and interest charges, and that they would not report anything to the credit bureaus.  Phew!

If you are prone to this kind of error, the points and miles game is not for you.  You will end up paying more in fees than you earn in rewards.

To be frank, I have also made this mistake.  Last summer, when we were traveling, a bill came due and I missed the payment deadline.  Since it was a one-time mistake, the bank graciously waived my excess fees.

Just remember, most everything in life is negotiable, especially when dealing with banks.

Have you made a similar mistake?  What was your outcome?

So Easy: Free Breakfast at the Radisson Martinique in NYC

Facebook Friend Discount at Radisson Martinique

Facebook Friend Discount at Radisson Martinique

A lot of miles and points travelers gravitate to the Radisson Martinique in New York City because you can stay two nights free for 50,000 Club Carlson points, if you have the Club Carlson credit card.

Well the nights are not exactly free, because you do have to pay the annual fee on the credit card.  That fee is $60 per year for the business card, or $75 for the personal card.

I have a two night stay booked at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway for a weekend in September.

The best thing about nights booked on points is that you don’t have to pay the NYC hotel taxes that add 20 percent or more onto your tab.

A big limitation of award stays is that you cannot reserve a room with two beds.  I am traveling with my sister so I reserved a king sized bed and will hope for the best!

How to Get A Free Buffet Breakfast at the Radisson Martinique

Free Breakfast at the Radisson Martinique

Free Breakfast at the Radisson Martinique

If you download the Radisson Martinique app on iTunes, you can get a mobile coupon for one free buffet breakfast!

This is a full American breakfast featuring eggs, bacon, potatoes, pancakes, fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal and bakery items.

Social Media Promo Codes to Discount Your Stay at the Radisson Martinique

The travel industry is big into social media these days, and the Radisson Martinique is no exception.

If you “like” the Martinique on Facebook, you will gain access to a promo code worth up to 20 percent off the lowest available rate.  Here’s the link to their Facebook page.  The Facebook friends’ promo code is FBOOK.  This discount is available for select dates only.

For the dates I checked, this discount was greater than the AAA discount (promo code AAA), but be sure to check both!

Similarly, if you follow the Martinique on Twitter, you can access a promo code for up to a 20 percent discount.  That promo code is TWT.  The availability calendar shows that this code is applicable beginning in January 2015.

Per Diem Discount

The best deal of all is the military per diem discount, otherwise known as the government rate.  This rate includes one complementary full breakfast per room per night.  Eligible parties include:

  • U.S. military personnel, U.S Federal civilian employees and U.S state employees
  • Active and retired travelers
  • Business or leisure travel
  • ID or military orders required
  • Tax exemption varies by state

The Historic Roots of the Martinque

Radisson Martinque on Broadway

Radisson Martinque on Broadway

The Radisson Martinique on Broadway is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Hotels of America.

The building has landmark status from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

In 1923, Harry F Young, aka “The Human Fly,” was hired to climb the Hotel Martinique to promote the silent movie Safety Last.  Tragically, he lost his grip on the ascent, and fell nine stories to his death.

Continue reading

Which No Annual Fee Credit Card Pays 3% Cash Back on All Travel?

Sam's Club 5:3:1 Cash Back MasterCard

Equipped with chip and PIN technology

There is a rewards credit card flying under the radar that pays 5% cash back on gas3% cash back on all travel, and dining out, and 1% cash back on everything else.

Can you guess which card this is?

Here’s a hint:

  • it is a no annual fee card;
  • it requires you to be a member;
  • membership is open to everyone but costs $45.

This Card Pays Higher Cash Back on Travel Than Better Known Rewards Credit Cards

No, it is not the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express Card.  The PenFed card earns 5x points on airline tickets, and 1x point on other purchases.  It offers a signup bonus of $200 after spending $2500 in the first three months and has no annual fee.

No, it is not the Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® which pays 2x points on restaurant meals and all travel expenses, and redeposits 10 percent of redeemed miles back into your account.  The Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® card offers 20,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days and has no annual fee.

No, it is not the Chase Sapphire card which pays 2x points on dining, 1x points on other penes, and an extra point on hotels and air fares booked via Chase Ultimate Rewards.  The Sapphire card offers 10,000 points after spending $500 in the first 3 months and has no annual fee.

Meet the Sam’s Club 5:3:1 Cash Back MasterCard

Sam's Club 5:3:1 Cash Back MasterCard

Sam’s Club 5:3:1 Cash Back MasterCard

The Sam’s Club 5:3:1 MasterCard pays 5x points on gas purchases, 3x points on all travel, 3x points on restaurants, and 1x points on other purchases.  

I don’t know of no other no annual fee rewards credit card that pays 3 percent cash back on restaurants, hotels, rental cars, airline tickets, train tickets, buses, cruises, tours, and timeshares!  (If you have any contenders, please share in the comments.)

Some cards pay bonus points on car rental and hotels, others on restaurants or air tickets.  But the general travel rewards credit cards like the Chase Sapphire or the Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® pay 2 or 2.2 percent respectively on travel and dining.

The Sam’s Club credit card comes with the latest chip technology for added security.  The card will be PIN enabled, meaning it can be used in situations such as overseas train stations where a PIN is required.

If you apply by August 31, 2014, and you will earn a $20 statement credit after spending $50.

There is no annual fee for the card, but membership in Sam’s Club is required, and membership costs $45.  

There is a maximum of $5,000 in cash back rewards during any “reward period” which is a calendar year.  You’d have to be a real big spender to exceed that cap!

Sam's Club 5:3:1 Cash Back MasterCard

Sam’s Club 5:3:1 Cash Back MasterCard

Here are some specifics:

  • 5 percent cash back on fuel at gas stations (for the first $6,000 spent on fuel each calendar year). That’s good at all gas stations in the U.S. (except gas stations run by other warehouse clubs and super centers.) After the first $6,000 in fuel spending each year, you earn 1 percent back.
  • 3 percent cash back on restaurants worldwide (including fast food, bars, and catering, but excluding purchases at other warehouse clubs).
  • 3 percent cash back on all travel. Travel includes: rental cars; airlines; hotels; passenger rail; bus lines; cruise lines; time shares; travel agencies (although not those offered by other warehouse clubs); travel sites; and tour operators.
  • 1 percent back on all other eligible purchases.

Be sure to read the Terms and Conditions for all the details.

The Sam’s Club 5:3:1 Cash Back Credit Card Has Some Quirks

There are a few weird things about the Sam’s Club 5:3:1 card.

  • First, cash back rewards are issued just once a year in February.
  • Second, the rewards are in the form of a check made payable to Sam’s Club.
  • Third, the checks can only be cashed at a Sam’s Club.

These features are a big turn-off for me!

How to Get Sam’s Club Membership for “Free”

The usual cost of membership in Sam’s Club is $45 per year.

Several times a year you can find special offers for Sam’s Club membership via Groupon. Continue reading

Fishing for Compliments on TripAdvisor

Baiting the Hook on Trip Advisor

Baiting the Hook on TripAdvisor

I’m sure the Sheration Park South in Richmond, Virginia isn’t the only hotel to do this, but it put me off.

When I was checking out earlier this week, the front desk clerk asked me if I enjoyed my stay.

The conversation went something like this:

Clerk: Did you enjoy your stay?

Me:  Yes

Clerk:  Was everything OK?

Me:  Everything was fine.

Clerk:  Did you get room service?

Me:  No, we ate in the restaurant.

Clerk:  How was the food?

Me:  It was fine.

Clerk:  Was your room clean?

Me:  Yes it was very nice.

Clerk:  We are undergoing renovations.  I hope you weren’t disturbed by the noise.

Me:  No, not at all.

I guess I made it through the gauntlet, because the clerk then handed me business card and suggested I write a review on TripAdvisor.

There was really nothing of note about this particular Sheraton.  It was just like many others I have stayed in, no more, no less.

I wouldn’t bother to write a review on TripAdvisor unless there was something terrible or something outstanding about my experience.  I did not appreciate being screened in this manner.

Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite

Of course, I check TripAdvisor when I travel.  The big thing I noticed about hotels in Richmond and Petersburg were the reports of bedbugs.  Not just reports, but pictures!  These pictures gave me the creeps!

It doesn’t seem to matter if it is a 4 star hotel or a 1 star hotel — bedbugs are a big problem in Richmond.  In fact, I read an online review of this very hotel that reported a recent occurrence of bedbugs.

Was that why the hotel was prompting guests to write favorable reviews on TripAdvisor?

Do you check the Bedbug Registry before you travel?

FWIW, I found this informative resource on 15 Tips for Avoiding Hotel Bedbugs on Health.com.

Which Five Star Hotel is on HotelCoupons.com?

HotelCoupons.com

HotelCoupons.com is my “secret” weapon

I have a guest blog post today on Air, Land and Sea.  It’s about my last ditch option for finding cheap hotel rooms.

If I’m on a road trip, and I bomb out on Priceline, I give HotelCoupons.com a shot.

Head on over the Air, Land and Sea to check out My Secret Weapon for Cheap Hotel Rooms.

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

Save on End of Summer Getaways

Summer Getaways

Get Last Minute Deals on Summer Getaways

I am taking stock of the last weeks of summer and am planning a getaway around DMVthe District, Maryland, and Virginia, that is.

For starters, my daughter and I are heading down to Petersburg, Virginia for a college visit.  I’ve been hoping to snag a room on Priceline.

I’ve updated my Promos page with some opportunities to save on end of summer travel.

If you find the summer has been slipping away without plans for a vacation, check out these deals from some of my favorite discount travel sites:

Groupon

  • 15% off Flash Deals on Getaways with promo code GETAWAY15.  Good 8/15/14 – 8/16/14.  

Priceline

  • Get an extra 5% off Express Deals with code METRO6 when you book in Las Vegas, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, Toronto. 2 star hotels and above, min 2 night stay. Travel anytime. Book by Aug 25, 2014.

Living Social

Hotels.com

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

Fast Track to SPG Gold Status: Deal or No Deal?

Earn SPG Gold Status with 2 Stays

Earn SPG Gold Status with 2 Stays

When I logged into my Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) account today I noticed a special offer:

upgrade to Gold Preferred Guest® status after two eligible stays at SPG hotels by October 15, 2014.

The promotion is offered to “select” Starwood Preferred Guest members who register by August 31, 2014.

The Gold Preferred Guest status will be good through February 2016.

Certain exclusions apply:  bookings made through third parties such as online travel agencies do not count, nor do award night booked with Starwood points or Cash & Points.

Normally, ten separate stays or 25 nights in a year are required to earn Gold status, so this is indeed a fast track.

Is SPG Gold Status Worth It?

Here are the benefits of Gold Status:

  • Three Starpoints for every dollar spent – a 50% bonus over basic membership.
  • 4 p.m. late checkout.
  • An “enhanced” room at check-in, when available.
  • Your choice of a welcome gift:  bonus Starpoints, complimentary in-room Internet access, or a free drink.

So far as I am able to gather, the “enhanced” room may be a room on a higher floor, but is not a suite.

The welcome gift is a choice of:

  • 250 Starwood points (125 points at Aloft, Four Points and Element);
  • high speed internet access for the entire stay; or
  • a complimentary beverage at the restaurant/bar, maximum value of $15.

No Status, No Problem

I have a couple of hotel stays coming up but I am not going to go out of my way to stay at a Starwood hotel just to earn gold status.  I can almost always get a cheaper rate going through Priceline or Hotwire, and I am unlikely to have enough paid stays at Starwood hotels in the next 18 months to make this deal worthwhile for me.

What about you?  Is this a deal, or no deal?

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

Secret Europe by Lonely Planet: Free for Kindle

Secret Europe by Lonely Planet

Free from Amazon.com

Travel guides are some of my favorite leisure reading.  Lonely Planet publishes free e-books that are basically teasers for their full length travel guides.

Their most recent offering, available for free in the Amazon Kindle store, is Secret Europe:  50 Truly Unforgettable Experiences to Inspire your Next Trip.

This 41-page mini-guide, published in June 2014, highlights clandestine nightclubs, secret hotels, killer views, off-the-radar villages, lesser-known cultural capitals, and more.

If your are looking for inspiration to start planning your your next travel adventure, and you like to explore hidden gems and unique activities, you might want to download this book.

Coverage includes:

  • Spain: Cabo de Gata, Parque Natural Sierras Subbeticas, Gibraltar
  • Czech Republic: Olomouc, Prague
  • Poland: Krakow
  • Turkey: Bozcaada
  • Ireland: Cromane, Dublin
  • Macedonia: Dihovo
  • Italy: Lazio, Nocelle, Sibillini Mountains, Ostuni, Venice
  • Croatia: Losinj, Zagreb
  • Germany:Mechernich, Beuron, Berlin
  • Netherlands: Haarlem, Amsterdam
  • England: Battle, South Cotswolds, London
  • Luxembourg: Luxembourg City
  • Norway: Kjerringoy, Bergen
  • Russia: Kaliningrad
  • France: Amiens, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, Paris
  • Serbia: Belgrade
  • Iceland: Reykjavik, Nordurfjordur
  • Estonia: Tartu
  • Montenegro: Morinj
  • Belarus: Pripyatsky National Park
  • Switzerland: Lavaux
  • Albania: Shkodra
  • Greece: Ithaca
  • Georgia: Kakheti
  • Portugal: Vila do Bispo
  • Wales: Conwy
  • Latvia: Sigulda
  • Scotland: Claunie
  • Finland: The Lakeland
  • Crete: Milia

I am definitely going to add a number of these destinations to my wish list!

 

 

How I Earned 2500 SPG Points on a Cash & Points Stay

Sheraton Ann Arbor Shuttle

Door to door service to the Ann Arbor Do

Last month, I spent four nights at the Sheraton Ann Arbor while attending the Ann Arbor Art Festival Do.  

It was a perfectly nice hotel — exactly what you’d expect from a Sheraton.  It offered nothing particularly noteworthy, except for the complimentary shuttle service which was outstanding.

I booked a “Cash & Points” stay.  As a Category 3 Starwood hotel, the fixed Cash & Points rate is 3,500 points per night plus $55 (plus tax).

This four night holiday put a big dent in my SPG points balance.

Cash & Points stays do not earn Starwood (SPG) points.  To replenish my account, I took advantage of a couple of  promotions to earn a total of 2,500 points:

  1. Make a Green Choice — 1,500 points
  2. Local restaurant promo — 500 points
  3. 2x points using Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card to pay the cash portion of the bill — 500 points

Make a Green Choice

SPG Make a Green Choice

Get 500 SPG points per night

SPG’s environmental initiative — “Make a Green Choice” — aims to conserve water and energy.  The Ann Arbor Sheraton offers guests the option to decline daily housekeeping service in exchange for 500 Starpoints per night (except day of departure).  Since I was not sharing the room, I opted for the Starpoints.

Welcome SPG Members!

The hotel website indicated another welcome offer was in effect.  You could earn 500 Starpoints by showing your SPG card and spending $25 in food and drink in the hotel restaurant.

* * *

Starpoints are the most difficult currency to accumulate.  There are no bonus points categories, save for 2x points at Starwood hotels.  Unlike most other points programs, there is not a shopping portal to earn extra points for shopping online.

I was pleased to get 2,500 points back for this stay — to go toward my next trip!

As Kermit once said, it’s not easy being green.

Do you participate in hotels’ environmental programs?  Should hotels incentivize these programs by offering points in their loyalty programs?  

15 is My Limit on Schnitzengruben, ahem, Rewards Credit Cards

Fifteen is my Limit

Fifteen is my limit . . .

I love to read those silly What’s in My Wallet blog posts.  I guess it’s because before I got into points and miles, I would not have believed that you could open an insane number of rewards credit cards without ruining your credit.

It does raise some questions, though:

  • How could the banks keep extending you credit?
  • How many times can you earn big bonuses?
  • How do you remember which card to use for which purchases?
  • How could you possibly keep track of all those credit cards without missing a payment?

15 is My Limit on Schnitzengruben, I mean Credit Cards

I recently counted 14 credit cards in my wallet from five different banks.  That is crazy!  I don’t recommend that for anyone.

Miss a single payment and you will be socked with a $35 fee and a major ding to your credit score.

With fourteen active credit card accounts, it is taking too much of my time to track expenses and pay the bills.  Let’s face it; my office is cluttered and my wallet barely closes.

I am looking to thin out my collection.

Rewards Credit Cards Aren’t for Everyone

Travel rewards credit cards aren’t for everybody.

First off, you need to have a stellar credit score to be eligible for the best offers.

Most people prefer to carry only one or two cards, to simplify things and minimize the hassle.  There is merit to this approach, particularly if you are disorganized and don’t keep current with paying your bills.

A perfectly reasonable strategy is to earn free travel is to focus on one airline or one type of flexible rewards such as Chase Ultimate Rewards points or cash back travel cards like the Capitol One Venture Card, or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®.

But if you have a credit score in the excellent range, and you pay your bills on time and in full every month, rewards credit cards can be incredibly lucrative.

Once you have experienced the large bonus offers for opening a new credit card, which can be worth $500 or more, it is easy to get sucked into to opening more and more accounts to earn free travel.

Know Your Credit Score

FICO credit score

Barclay’s Offers Free Access to Your Transunion Credit Score

From personal experience, I have watched my credit score progressively improve the further along I got in this game.  Barclay’s bank offers its credit card customers free access to their official FICO credit score once every three months.

My most recent FICO score is 837, with 14 open accounts, and five additional credit card accounts that I have closed in the past year or so.

That is because my credit line has increased dramatically with all these cards, and my monthly spending is just a small fraction of the available credit.

The banks appear willing to extend me credit well beyond my annual income.  Be careful.  Like with the mortgage crisis, a lot of people get in debt over their heads from credit cards and can’t make the payments, or end up paying exorbitant amounts of interest, at rate as high as 28 percent annually.

This much is clear:  the banks are making plenty of money, but probably not from people like me.

Starting Out with Rewards Credit Cards:  The Chase Freedom Card

When I started my environmental consulting business 15 years ago, I opened the Chase Freedom credit card in order to keep my business expenses separate from my personal expenses.  Chase Freedom is a personal, not a business credit card but I was using it for business purposes.  It carries no annual fee, and earns 5x rewards on select categories of spending.  This is a card that I would highly recommend for someone just starting out.  The points can be taken as cash back on your next statement, or used as Ultimate Rewards Points.  Ultimate Rewards Points are quite flexible and can be transferred to many airline and hotel loyalty programs but you need to have one of the premium credit cards from Chase to enable transfers.

If you are just starting out with travel hacking, the Chase Freedom card is a great place to begin because you can earn cash back or travel rewards, depending on your needs.  Because the card has no annual fee, you can keep it forever, thus increasing the length of your credit history over time.   This card earns 1x points on all purchases, and 5x points on select categories, that vary each quarter on up to $1500 of purchases per quarter.  Generally, the 5x points is good for gas purchases for six months of the year.  This spring, the card offered 5x points on restaurants, and sometimes you can get 5x points on Amazon.com, Lowes, or Kohls.

Right now, Chase is offering a $100 bonus for new applications, but I have seen this bonus go as high as $200 after spending $500 on initial purchases within three months.  From time to time there is an extra $25 incentive for adding an authorized user to your account.  There are cards with bigger bonuses but they usually entail annual fees and larger initial spending requirements.

Pick a Card, Any Card!

Whenever I show anyone what credit cards are in my real wallet, they look at me like I am crazy.  I often get looks as I fumble through my wallet looking for the card that earns bonus points at this store or that.

Because I run a small business, I am eligible to apply for business credit cards.  This allow me to “double dip” on account bonuses.  I travel for both business and personal reasons and must keep my expenses separate for tax purposes.  I caution you that business cards can only be used for genuine business expenses and they lack some of the consumer protections of personal credit cards.

What’s in My Wallet?

Here’s a quick rundown of what is in my wallet and why, and which cards are candidates for culling.

Chase Rewards Credit Cards

Quicken Rewards, personal  (authorized user):  The credit card I’ve had the longest is the Quicken Card issued by Chase Bank.  We opened this card over 15 years ago because at the time, it was the one of the few cards that allowed you to download your statements into the Quicken personal accounting software.  The Quicken Rewards card pays cash back rewards and carries no annual fee.  This cash back card pays 2x drugstores, restaurants, and office supply stores, and 1x points on other purchases.  Redemptions for airline tickets can be worth up to 1.25 cents per point, but only if you redeem at the top of a price bracket, e.g. a $500 ticket for 40,000 points.  This is a keeper.

Freedom, personal:  I love the Chase Freedom card because I can earn 5x points on practical things like gas and restaurants and there is no annual fee.  It is a keeper because it pads my Ultimate Rewards point balance, and contributes to the length of my credit history, which is a factor that improves my credit score.

Ink Plus, business:  The Chase Ink Plus is my primary business credit card.  When I opened the card, I earned 50K Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 in 3 months.  This card pays 5x points at office supply stores and on telecommunications and 2 points on gas stations and hotels.  The points easily transfer to Amtrak, Southwest Airlines, and United — three of my preferred carriers.  Chase offered me a fabulous retention offer which I declined, but I plan to keep the card open.

Ink Bold, business:  This is a charge card, not a credit card.  The differences is that balances must be paid off every month.  I opened this card for my blog business in June 2014 when there was a special bonus offer of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 in three months.  This card has a $95 annual fee which is waived the first year.  This card has the same bonus categories as the Ink Plus.  The usual bonus is 50K points.

Southwest Rapid Rewards, business:  I opened the Southwest Rapid Rewards card for the 50,000 mile bonus.  That is an offer that rolls around every couple of months. Southwest claims that you can get two roundtrip flights for 50K miles, and that has been my experience.  The Southwest Rapid Rewards card has a $69 annual fee that is not waived the first year.  You get 3,000 bonus miles every subsequent year.  Last year, I was offered an additional 3,000 points as a retention bonus, and this year I received this offer again!  I highly recommend the Southwest Rapid Rewards card for budget domestic travelers because of the excellent availability of award tickets on Southwest Airlines.

United Mileage Plus Explorer, personal (authorized user):  This is my husband’s card.  He opened it because there was a targeted offer for 50,000 miles.  The card carries an annual fee of $95 which is waived the first year.  When the fee came due, he was offered a retention bonus of 15,000 miles which offset the annual fee, and then some.

Barclays Reward Credit Cards

Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard®, personal:  I have the no annual fee version of the Barclaycard Arrival.  I opened it because of a targeted offer for 40,000 bonus miles and the ongoing benefits including 2x points on restaurant and travel spending.  You get a ten percent rebate on your travel redemptions, so this card effectively pays 2.2 percent cash back.  I love the access to my free credit score and the free TripIt Pro subscription.  The card now pays a bonus of 20,000 miles for new applicants.  This is another keeper.

The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®, personal:  I opened this card because it offered me 35,000 miles after making a single purchase.  There is an $89 annual fee which is waived the first year.  My version of the card awarded 10,000 bonus miles on your anniversary.  It has a number of additional benefits such as one free checked bag for up to four family members, a free lounge pass, and 5,000 fewer miles needed for reward tickets.  With this card, you can get 2 companion passes for $99 each, but there are  lots of strings attached.  I just received the 10,000 mile annual bonus.  I called to cancel the card because I did not want to pay the annual fee.  This card currently pays a 40,000 mile bonus after the first purchase, but does not offer the annual 10,000 bonus points.  It has an $89 annual fee which is waived the first year.

US Airways Dividend Miles, business:  I opened this card by “accident.”  I had applied for a different version of the US Airways card, but was informed that that it was not possible to have two different personal cards.  I was able to switch my application to this business card, and earn 25,000 Dividend Miles upon the first purchase.  The annual fee of $89 is waived the first year. Continue reading