When It’s Cheaper to Fly Than to Take the Train

Empire State Building on a Clear Night

Empire State Building on a Clear Night
Joel Shprentz Photo

Last year, our family took the train up to New York for Thanksgiving.

This year, it was cheaper to fly.

That’s because we were finally able to use the two companion passes that came with my US Airways credit card.

The companion passes can be a pain the the neck because of all the limitations, but this holiday season the stars were aligned in our favor.

US Airways Credit Card Benefits Saved the Day

I purchased a ticket on the US Airways shuttle for myself, and secured companion pass tickets for my husband and daughter.  The tickets cost $99 each, plus tax of about $20.  This was about $4oo in savings, compared to the cost of two full price tickets.

We each checked a bag, which normally costs $25 per flight.  We know we’d need extra suitcase space for all the sales we hoped to hit on Black Friday.  The checked bags flew free because of the credit card.  This equalled another $150 in savings.

Black Friday Sales Did Not Disappoint

Black Friday Sales Did Not Disappoint
Joel Shprentz Photo

The US Airways credit card carries an annual fee of $89, but it came with 40,000 frequent flyer miles. I am saving those miles for another trip.

The current offer for the US Airways credit card is even better:  50,000 Dividend Miles after the first purchase and payment of an $89 fee.  Plus, you get the two companion passes and free checked bags.

If you are following along, that is a terrific deal!

You have to be a bit crazy to fly the day before Thanksgiving.  I am happy to report that despite a two hour weather-related delay, everything went smoothly.

Click here to compare current credit card offers.

Forget Uber. Dial 7 Car Service from LaGuardia

Dial 7 Car Service Beats Uber

Dial 7 Car Service Beats Uber

I have $20 worth of unused credits sitting in my Uber account, but when I flew into LaGuardia (LGA) last month I found a much better deal on ground transportation to Manhattan with Dial 7 car service.  

I am a budget traveler so limousines and black car services are not my thing — but this car service was the cheapest and fastest way to get my family of three and our bags to the hotel.

The driver was punctual, polite and pleasant and the cars were comfortable, convenient and commodious.

The regular fare from LaGuardia to downtown is $34 plus tolls and tax, but I used a discount code for $5 off.  Unlike Uber, car services are regulated and required to carry insurance.

How to Book Dial 7 Car Service from New York Airports

You can call Dial 7 at (212) 777-7777, but it is easier and cheaper to book ahead online.  The airport specials available with online booking are as follows:

From LaGuardia Airport $34
From JFK Airport $48
From Newark Airport $48

Rates do not include tolls or gratuity.

Special coupon codes are frequently available.  Check these sources:

For instance, I recently spotted this deal on Twitter:  $5 off LGA rides (Code: DECAIR1); $7 off JFK/EWR rides (DECAIR2).

When you get to the airport and have gathered your bags, you simply call Dial7 and they will direct you to your waiting driver outside.

There are many similar car services in New York — this is just the one I happened to try.

Everything worked seamlessly, on the busiest travel day of the year!  It beat standing in the cab line in the rain or taking the airport shuttle bus and stopping at a dozen hotels.

Thoughts?

Where Can You Find the Best Bagels in New York?

Brooklyn Bagels & Coffee is actually in Manhattan

Brooklyn Bagels & Coffee is near Penn Station in Manhattan

On 8th Avenue, just a few blocks from Penn Station, is a small bakery and coffee shop that makes the best bagels in New York, IMHO.

The bakery, Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company is in the Chelsea neighborhood at 286 8th Ave.

They serve all manner of bagels, bialys, lox, smoked whitefish, and a dozen flavors of cream cheese.

The bagels come in two sizes, “big” or “mini” — but I warn you, the big ones are enormous.

You can find a variety handrolled, kettle-boiled bagels:

plain, sesame, poppy, onion, garlic, rye (with seeds), everything, cinnamon raisin, egg, multi-grain, whole wheat, whole wheat everything, whole wheat oats & raisins, whole wheat sesame, pumpernickel and salt

Earn Frequent Flyer Miles at Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company

Earn Frequent Flyer Miles at Brooklyn Bagels and Coffee in Chelsea

Earn Frequent Flyer Miles at Brooklyn Bagels and Coffee in Chelsea

To be perfectly frank, I don’t know if this is the best bagel shop in New York or not.

The bagels are very fresh and very good, and the place earns four stars on Yelp.

But the key thing is that this shop participates in the Rewards Dining program.

I favor the United Mileage Plus Dining program, but most of the major airlines run a similar rewards program with the opportunity to earn their frequent flyer miles at the same list of restaurants.

If you make ten purchases at participating restaurants in a calendar year, you can earn 5 times United Mileage Plus miles every subsequent time you dine at a participating restaurant. (You earn 3x miles for the first ten purchases.)  Couple that with a rewards earning credit card to increase your savings.

Thus, if you stop in for bagels or coffee once in a while, you will be on the fast track to earning five times miles at hundreds of participating restaurants.

Do you earn frequent flyer miles through the Rewards Dining program?  Have you find any gems that you would like to share?  

Resort Fees Revealed

ResortFeeChecker.com

ResortFeeChecker.com

Resort Fee Checker is a new online tool that allows travelers to check the resort fee at over 2,000 U.S. hotels.

Resort fees are those annoying, expensive charges that hotels tack on for routine services that should be included in the room rate.

Resort fees are most frequently imposed in these popular destinations:  OrlandoLas VegasMiami,  AnaheimOahuPhoenixPalm SpringsMaui, and San Diego.

The fees can range from a few dollars up to $35 per night.

There fees cover a variety of amenities which vary from property to properly.  These amenities that are commonly free at other hotels, may include:

  • Pool
  • Fitness center
  • Business center
  • Internet access
  • Newspaper
  • Faxes
  • In-room coffee
  • Parking

Resort Fees:  Know Before You Go

Add-on charges such as resort and parking fees are especially annoying for users of Priceline and Hotwire, because the fees are may not revealed until deep into the booking process.

Resort Fee Checker was developed by the folks who run the HotelDealsRevealed website, where consumers can report the specifics of their Priceline wins.

Don’t be caught unaware!  If you are planning a resort trip, do your research in advance.

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

A Nostalgic Gift for Oz Lovers

This Is Australia 2015 Wall Calendar

This Is Australia 2015 Wall Calendar

Do you remember the books of Miroslav Sasek?

His children’s books with quirky illustrations inspired a whole generation of children to travel.

Several of Sasek’s iconic children’s travel books have now been published in wall calendar form.

The most recent edition for 2015 is This is Australia.

It would make a nice holiday gift for the Australia fan.

2015 Wall Calendars featuring imaginative drawings by Miroslav Sasek are also available for these cities:

This Is Australia 2015 Wall Calendar

I love the classic illustrations by Miroslav Sasek.

The calendars appeal to people who like classic, whimsical illustrations.

If you frame the images from the calendar at the end of the year it would make a nice tableau.

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

Lowest Price Ever for Kind Snack Bars!

Strong and Spicy Kind Snack Bars on Sale at Groupon

Strong and Spicy Kind Snack Bars on Deep Sale via  Groupon

I am nuts for Kind Snack Bars.

Whenever I travel, I pack Kind Bars  in my carry-on bag as emergency rations.

When we flew to New York over Thanksgiving, we spent two hours on the ground at DCA waiting to take off.

High protein Kind Bars saved the day, warding off hunger pangs and meltdowns.

Strong and Spicy Kind Snack Bars on Sale at Groupon

Check out this Groupon Deal!

If you buy these healthy snacks at the airport, you could pay $2.50 – $3.50 per bar.  At the supermarket, you can find them for $1.25 to $1.50 per bar.

With this Groupon deal, they are going for $0.75 per bar!  This is the lowest price I have ever seen.

I bought a case of 24 Thai Chili protein bars for $27.99, discounted by $10 with coupon code JOY10 (expires today, December 9, 2014), for a total of $17.99 including shipping.  You can chose from five exotic flavors.

Buy the Groupon through the Ebates shopping portal and get 6 percent cash back

Not bad.

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

 

Nine Things My Husband Won’t Do for Miles & Points

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 7.45.24 PM

“New York is where I’d rather stay.  I get allergic smelling hay.  I just adore a penthouse view.  Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue.” — Green Acres Theme Song

My husband is incredibly supportive, but when it comes to collecting frequent flyer miles and points there are things he simply will not do.

Some things are too much trouble; others he considers to be ethically suspect.

Let’s face it:  this is a crazy hobby and the lengths we go to maximize our miles can be excessive, to say the least.

Every one has their own take on what they are willing to do, and on where to draw the proverbial ethical line.

Here are the nine things my husband won’t do.

Where a Reluctant Spouse Draws the Line

1.  Change hotels midstream:  Once we arrive at our destination, my husband will not change hotels just to get a free night.  For that reason, credit cards that offer a free night every year are not attractive to us, because it means paying a high rate for the remaining nights — compared to a a low rate we could get on Priceline for the entire stay.

2.  Open Excessive Numbers of Credit Cards:  The fewer cards the better, as far as my husband is concerned.  He will not apply for a credit card with a fabulous bonus if we do not have an immediate use for the miles.

3.  Call to request a retention bonus:  No one likes to call the credit card company only to be placed on hold or transferred to another department, especially my husband.  If he is the primary cardholder and an annual fee has posted, I place the call to request a fee waiver, and he affirms whatever deal is offered.

4.  Go on “mattress runs”:  Some people will book phantom stays at hotels just to earn extra points or to gain status in a hotel loyalty program.  No way, Jose!

5.  Charge small purchases at local restaurants or the neighborhood dry cleaner:  My husband prefers to pay cash for small purchases when he goes out for lunch or patronizes small businesses.  He thinks the swipe fees the banks charge merchants are too high for small businesses to absorb.

6.  Open a Bluebird, a Red Card, a Serve account, or any other manner of reloadable debit  card:  Fuggedaboutit, he says.  These accounts do not function like an FDIC bank.

7.  Fly an indirect route:  My husband doesn’t mind changing planes if it gives him a chance to stretch his legs and grab lunch, even if it adds a couple of hours on to a trip.  But there is no way that he is going to fly around in circles just to earn miles, or accept some crazy routing to save miles.

8. Buy gift cards:  Gift cards lack the consumer protection of credit cards, and they make it more difficult to track your spending for budget purposes.  They are too much of a hassle when buying gas and they hold you up in the check-out line.

9.  Hang up and call again:  My husband doesn’t have the patience to spend hours on the phone to book an award ticket, and I don’t blame him.

Can you relate to any of these?   Please share in the comments.

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

Click here to compare current rewards credit card offers.

My Room Rate Dropped Four Times in Four Weeks

Gotta Love the Thanksgiving Parade!

Gotta Love Hello Kitty at the Thanksgiving Parade!
Joel Shprentz Photo

Do you ever wonder how much the person sitting next to you on the plane paid?  It seems that airfares are constantly changing and totally unpredictable.

The same can be true of hotels.  The room rates go up and down depending on the hotel’s model of supply and demand.

We had a recent hotel stay at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway.  I locked in two award nights well in advance — 50,000 Club Carlson points for a two-night stay.

We decided to add a third paid night on to our stay, so several weeks ago, I made a reservation to extend our stay.  The room rate at the time was close to $300 per night, plus tax, bringing the total to nearly $350.  That’s a lot to pay for a room at a 3 star hotel.

Amazing View from the Empire State Building

Amazing View from the Empire State Building, but Chilly!

It wasn’t worth bidding for a Priceline hotel because it would be really inconvenient to move hotels for one night.  Also, since we were traveling with our teenage daughter, we needed a room with two beds, and Priceline only guarantees that the room will accommodate two adults.  In New York City, hotel rooms are notoriously small, and often cannot accommodate three people.

Check the Room Rate and Call if it Drops

I had booked the room at the AAA rate.  Each week I checked online to see if the rates had dropped.  If so, I called the hotel and requested that they adjust my rate.  I did this four times, and four times, the hotel graciously adjusted the rate downward.  We ended up paying $172 for the room.  With tax, it came to $200.

Great Sales at Macy's

Great Sales at Macy’s
Joel Shprentz Photo

I love the location of the Radisson Martinique, right in K-town in the center of Manhattan.

We took advantage of pre-Black Friday sales at Macy’s, and went up the Empire State Building — both less than two blocks away.

Thanks to the Martinique app, the hotel comped us breakfast each morning.

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

Click here to compare current rewards credit card offers.

Online Raffle to Support Sustainable Harvest International

The Passports with Purpose online raffle is supporting Sustainable Harvest International in 2014

The Passports with Purpose 2014 online raffle is supporting Sustainable Harvest International

When I learned that Sustainable Harvest International was to be the beneficiary of this year’s travel blogger charitable giving, I knew I had to participate.

First of all, I believe it is important to support sustainable development.

Second, my daughter’s science teacher spent five years working for Sustainable Harvest International in Central America, and takes kids to volunteer with this organization every year.  That is how I know of the good work they do to provide training and tools to families, and to encourage environmentally sound agricultural practices.

Each year, travel bloggers band together under the banner of Passports with Purpose to raise funds for worthwhile projects in developing countries.

This year’s project will support Sustainable Harvest International’s work in Honduras.  You can read more about Sustainable Harvest International here.

Passports With Purpose Online Raffle

Passports with Purpose is a volunteer-run effort begun by several travel bloggers from Seattle that wanted to give back.  The fundraising mechanism for Passports with Purpose is an online raffle.  Bloggers donate travel-related prizes or secure prizes from travel vendors.  Passports with Purpose publishes a catalog of online prizes beginning December 1, 2014.  You can bid on any prize by making a $10 donation.  Each $10 donation is one entry and all proceeds go to Sustainable Harvest International.

The raffle runs through Wednesday, December 17, 2014.  

Over 70 bloggers are participating this year.

I have thrown a prize in the pot that may appeal to some readers.  I donated three United Club lounge passes which are good for entry into any of United ‘s special airport lounges.  You can get a drink and snack, recharge your laptop, and relax while awaiting your flight.  The book value is $150.

Some of the other prizes will likely be higher value:  travel gear, hotel vouchers, tours, and other travel-related stuff, including some trips to pretty exciting destinations.

Passports with Purpose is a worthwhile effort by the travel blogger community, so please check out the raffle to see if anything entices you to enter!

Do the Quadruple Dip for United MileagePlus Miles

Earn Extra Miles Shopping at Local Merchants with MileagePlus X App

Earn extra United miles shopping at local merchants with the MileagePlus X app

United Airlines is beta-testing a a new way to earn bonus miles when shopping at brick and mortar stores or for online purchases.

MileagePlus X mobile app lets you earn extra miles for every dollar you spend at participating merchants.

If used strategically, the new app can enable triple or even quadruple stacking of bonus MileagePlus miles.

Many readers take advantage of bonus cash back or miles by doing their online shopping through portals like FatWallet, or the United MileagePlus Shopping portal.  With MileagePlus X, you can now earn extra points when paying for in-store purchases.

Earn Extra Miles Shopping at Local Merchants with MileagePlus X App

MileagePlus X Earnings

The bonus points range from 2-4 extra points for purchases from national retailers such as Lowe’s, Sears, Gap, AMC Theaters, and restaurants chains, up to to 20-24 points for purchases at local restaurants, spas, beauty shops, exercise studios, entertainment, nightclubs, and other activiites.

Earn Bonus Points Up To Four Ways With MileagePlus X

Here’s how it works.  The app indicates participating businesses near your location, and the amount of miles you can earn.

At the register, customers enter the total dollar amount of their purchase via the app, and purchase a digital merchant gift card.

The cashier scans the barcode to complete the digital gift card purchase. Award miles instantly appear in members’ accounts in addition to any miles the customer may earn purchasing the digital gift card with a MileagePlus Credit Card from Chase.

Earn Extra Miles Shopping at Local Merchants with MileagePlus X App

MileagePlus X Earnings

Chase United® MileagePlus Credit Card holders earn a 25% bonus on the miles for purchases made through MileagePlus X.

The MileagePlus X app can also be used for online purchases with many merchants. While you are checking out, use the MileagePlus X app for the amount due and enter the gift card number and PIN that is generated to pay with a gift card at the merchant’s web site.

The Considerable Downsides to MileagePlusX

Because you are purchasing and paying with a gift card, many of the consumer protections of credit cards, such as extended warranty and loss replacement do not apply to these purchases.

Your ability to return items will also be limited, most likely to store credit.

The MileagePlus X Triple Dip

If you use your MileagePlus credit card, your purchases will earn:

Earn Extra Miles Shopping at Local Merchants with MileagePlus X AppEarn Extra Miles Shopping at Local Merchants with MileagePlus X App

MileagePlus X Earnings

  1. traditional mileage for using your MileagePlus credit card
  2. miles for paying with MileagePlus X
  3. a 25% cardmember bonus.

The 25 percent cardmember bonus does not apply to authorized users of the credit card.

How to Do The MileagePlus X Quadruple Dip

If  a merchant is included in  both MileagePlus X and the MileagePlus Shopping portal, use your MileagePlus credit card within MileagePlus X, and then pay for your purchase online with the gift card number and PIN from MileagePlus X after clicking through to the merchant at MileagePlusShopping.com.

Have you received an email inviting you to test the MileagePlus X app?  What has your experience been?  Please share in the comments!

Click here to compare current rewards credit card offers.

Pay What You Wish at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pay what you can at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pay what you wish at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of the commercial travel deals sites that I follow is Travelzoo.

They regularly send out enticing offers — not just for flights and hotels, but also for shows and cultural attractions at a deep discount.

 Economize on Visits to the Met

New York City is an expensive city to visit so a Travelzoo deal for cut rate admissions to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum caught my eye.

Travelzoo is offering admission tickets to the Met for $19, or four tickets for $60.

The usual “recommended” admission to the museum is $25 per adult, and free for children under 12.

The regular fee includes admission to the museum including all special exhibits plus same-week admission to The Cloisters.  The website states:  “To help cover the costs of exhibitions, we ask that you please pay the full recommended amount.”

But when you go the purchase tickets page, you see this notice in the fine print:

If you would like to pay less than full recommended admission, please go directly to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to pay as you wish.

I turns out that that the Met and a number of other New York City institutions are required to accept voluntary donations for admission.

You can pay whatever you want, every day, all year long.

The execution of this policy was the subject of some litigation in 2013.  The lawsuit contended that the  museum was obscuring the option to pay less than full price, because the sign by the entrance indicated “suggested donation” in small print.  You can read more about this issue in The Atlantic and the New York Times.

I have fond memories of visiting the Met and the Cloisters as a kid.  Both were pretty magical places, where I felt transported back in time.

I think the admission fee is fully worth it to visit a world class art museum.  However, if the cost of admission is holding your family back from a visit, know that you can pay what you wish and it is perfectly okay.

Pay What You Wish at the American Museum of Natural History

Pay What You Wish at the American Natural History Museum

Pay what you wish at the American Museum of Natural History

Some other New York museums that have the pay what you wish policy are the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Cloisters, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Continue reading

The Real Reason I Collect Miles and Points

My sister and daughter at Herald Sqaure in NYC

My daughter and sister at Herald Sqaure in NYC

My sister lives in Helena, Montana (HLN) the capital of the Big Sky State.  The population of Helena is less than 30,000 people.

The airport there is really tiny.  Long-term parking is $15 per week; you leave your payment in the drop box when you exit.

There are only about six flights per day out of HLN.  The flights are not only scarce, they are also expensive.

My sister wanted to come east for our Mom’s 90th birthday and our Uncle’s 95th, so I offered to buy her a ticket.

Well there was no way she was going to let me buy a ticket.

But she would allow me to pay for her ticket with frequent flyer miles — miles that I had accrued largely through credit card sign-up bonuses.

That’s the reason I collect miles and points!

Extreme Travel Hacking for the Sandwich Generation

When I attended my first frequent flyer meet-up a few years ago, one of the old timers informed me that frequent flier miles should not be used for domestic flights.  Excuse me?

I was told that I could get a much higher value if I redeemed points for international first class travel.

Over the past several years, I have redeemed hundreds of thousands of miles for flights — and all of these flights were economy class domestic travel.

Most people think of family travel as traveling with children.  Our family travel is traveling to see family, or flying family members in for a visit.  To me, that is maximizing the value of frequent flyer miles!

I don’t care whether I have to spend 25,000 miles or 50,000 miles for a roundtrip ticket.  The “point” is that we use the miles to get where we need to go.   Continue reading

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?

Click here to compare current rewards credit card offers.

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.

Click here to compare current rewards credit card offers.

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.

Click here to compare current rewards credit card offers.

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.