According to the USDA, an average family of four spends upwards of $1000 per month on groceries.
What if you could save five percent of that cost?
Better yet, what if you could earn 60,000 frequent flyer miles each year just from your grocery spending?
Since I’ve never seen this mentioned elsewhere, I wanted point out that Staples.com is now selling Safeway gift cards.
If you purchase Safeway gift cards with an small business credit card that pays five times points on office supply store purchases, such as a Chase Ink card, you can accumulate five percent cash back or five times points for travel.
Staples.com sells two types of Safeway gift cards in several denominations up to $200 — emailed cards, and actual plastic gift cards. There is a mailing fee of $2.00 per card for the plastic version.
I have been buying these cards for sometime, and have only encountered two Safeway cashiers that know how to use the emailed version of the gift cards. So if you opt for the paper gift cards, be prepared to endure the wrath of shoppers standing in line behind you!
Did you know about this deal before reading this post?
I loved the hotel. Would I have loved it as much if if it were a paid stay, as opposed to practically free? Probably not. As a certified cheapskate, I get some bizarre pleasure about getting something for nothing. I would not have paid 340 Euro a night to stay there.
But after agonizing about the various Radisson Blu hotels in Paris, I am very glad we selected Le Metropolitan.
Here are a few reasons why:
The Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Has a Direct View of the Eiffel Tower
There is nothing more romantic than a room with a view. Our trip to Paris was timed to coincide with Bastille Day. It was a real thrill to witness the fireworks display over the Eiffel Tower from the Place de Mexico, directly in front of our hotel.
The police had barricaded the adjoining streets, so we were in a safe, traffic-free zone. We were away from the crowds, but still had a direct, spot on view of the Eiffel Tower.
We could even catch a view of the Eiffel Tower from our room on the third floor.
The Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Doesn’t Feel Like a Chain Hotel
I prefer to stay somewhere that feels local. The Radisson Blu Metropolitan has its own modern Parisian sense of style. It is not a cookie cutter chain hotel. Rather, it is a small property with 38 rooms and 10 suites, designed by French interior designer François Champsaur. The look is elegant, clean and minimalist, with features such as all white bedding, caramel-stained wood and black stone rainfall showers.
The Small Touches at the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan in Paris
Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference. There was a Nespresso machine in the room, and the restaurant sent up a pitcher of freshly steamed milk. There was a tiny refrigerator to keep some yogurt or a few drinks cold. Also there was a free bottle of Evian water, and two free macarons were delivered to our room each afternoon. If you are lucky, you will get a couple of bonbons with the turn down service — sweet, marzipan like confections. Oh, and there is free wifi in all the rooms, and a safe in the closet.
The Entire Hotel is Nonsmoking
There is another Club Carlson hotel about two blocks away, the Radisson Blu Le Dokhan’s Hotel Paris Trocadero. It receives high marks on TripAdvisor, and looks charming. We considered that hotel, but the only rooms that were available on points for our dates were smoking rooms. That was unacceptable. At the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitanhotel, all the rooms are nonsmoking.
There’s a Swimming Pool and a Hamman!
There are more than 2,000 hotels in Paris and probably fewer than a few dozen have swimming pools. Le Metropolitan has a small swimming pool in the basement, along with a steam room. The swimming pool is petite, for sure, but there is nothing more refreshing than a dip in the pool after spending the day walking all over Paris. The pool and spa area is quite relaxing, with vintage jazz music piped in. The steam room, or hamman, is lined with bright green glass tiles. I didn’t try it; maybe next time.
The Neighborhood — the Sixteenth Arrondissement
Paris is a city of small neighborhoods, and I am sure most people will say they liked their hotel because the location was great. The Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan is in a quiet neighborhood of upscale apartments, professional offices, and embassies.
The nearest Metro station, Trocadero, is exactly one block away.
There are a handful of cafes and casual restaurants, but no nightlife to speak of. The nice thing about being in a residential neighborhood is that there are convenient services nearby.
For instance, there is a laundromat next door. Nothing makes me happier when traveling than a suitcase full of clean clothes.
A few doors down from the laundromat, you can find Androuet (17, rue des Belles Feuilles), which is reputed to be among the finest cheese shops in Paris. If you are overwhelmed by the choices the shopkeeper can guide you.
In Paris, there are contests each year for various baked goods, such as the best lemon tart, or the best baguette. In 2013, Boulangerie des Belles Feuilles (22 rue des Belles Feuilles) was among the top ten bakeries for butter croissants. Yup, we were staying down the street from the best croissants in Paris. The Paris Brest, a ring of choux pastry filled with hazelnut praline was to die for!
There is also a chain bakery, Paul (12 Rue De Belle Feuilles), where you can grab a quick breakfast. Chain bakery or not, they bake all their breads right there. It is located in a modern shopping mall just steps from Le Metropolitan. The mall houses a large Casino supermarket.
The Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, and Trocadero Gardens are all within easy walking distance.
What I Didn’t Like About Le Metropolitan
I am sorry if this is sounding like a puff piece. Perhaps the romance of Paris has contributed to my enthusiasm.
There are some things I didn’t like about the Radisson Blu le Metropolitan. First of all the rooms were small. You expect that in Paris. On both our stays, we were kindly upgraded from “Classic” to “Deluxe” rooms. Nevertheless, the rooms were still very small, with hardly enough room to sit and enjoy a drink or a bite to eat. In the second room where we stayed, the toilet was in a separate room from the sink and the shower — an inconvenient layout. Secondly, the service was adequate but not exceptional. Small requests, such as for a second chair, had to be repeated several times.
This hotel is not for everybody. If you want to be in the center of town, or in an area with more nightlife, this hotel is not for you.
There is a full service bar and restaurant at the Radisson Blu le Metropolitan which we did not try. The restaurant was on the pricy side, but discounts are available.
Finally, the cost of a room here in Club Carlson points has effectively doubled (for holders of the Club Carlson credit card), from 70,000 points for two nights, to 70,000 points for one night.
By the way, this hotel has its own app, with tourist information. You can find it on iTunes.
P.S. Per the request in the comments, here is a picture from the cheese shop.
Our family kind of lives moment to moment. It is hard for us to make long-range plans because we never know what might come up.
Spontanaity has its advantages, though. Sometimes, when you see an opportunity you can to jump on it.
Other times, it can be frustrating because tickets sell out, you can’t get reservations, and you miss out.
We have been saving miles and points for a trip to Japan for several years. Between my husband and myself, and a few strategic credit card applications, we had 300,000 frequent flier miles, enough for two roundtrip business class tickets to Japan.
OMG, My Husband Retired!
My husband retired last fall. I wasn’t really expecting it.
What does “retired” means these days, anyway? I mean, he stopped going to work every day. But, what’s next?
What’s more, our daughter graduated from high school in June. We suddenly have more flexibility than during all those years when we were tied to the school calendar.
So I did exactly what you might expect. I planned a trip. To Japan.
All Dressed Up With 300,000 Points and Nowhere To Go
I am totally conflicted about miles and points.
Sometimes I think they’re a total scam. It seems there is never availability for where you want to go, when you want to go. Or, the only flights available on frequent flier miles follow ridiculous routings.
Both United Airlines and All Nippon Airlines (ANA) fly nonstop from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Tokyo (NRT). You can use United Mileage Plus miles for either airline. It’s a code share thing. Both airlines offer lie-flat seats in business class on this route. But I couldn’t seem to find saver seat availability.
Then, miraculously, I found seats in both directions for travel during peak cherry blossom season! The routing would require an extra 15,000 frequent flier miles apiece.
Suddenly miles and points seem like magic! We’ll be traveling to Japan on United in business class, and returning via ANA in first class! The tickets are costing us 165,000 miles and $37 apiece.
That’s unbelievable! $37 to fly roundtrip to Tokyo in lie flat business class and first class. It kind of renews my faith in this hobby.
This will be our first trip to Asia. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a few things I learned from booking this trip, as well as some deals I’ve run across along the way. I am beyond excited!
If you have any tips on travel in Japan, I’d love if you could share in the comments!
A room at the Charlottesville Hyatt Place is going for $259 per night plus tax. That is way more than I want to pay.
The Trouble With Orbitz Rewards
It occurs to me that I just earned over $100 in Orbitz Rewards via a recent series of contests. In my mind, that should be worth one free night.
Orbitz is showing room availability at the Charlottesville Hyatt Place at the same rate as the Hyatt website, $259. I’m thinking, after crediting my $100 in Orbitz Rewards, that $159 a night might be the best I can do.
However, it turns out that Orbitz calculates tax on the full room rate, and only then subtracts the Orbitz credits.
With tax, the room rate is $289. One night at the Hyatt Place in Charlottesville would be $184, after factoring in $105 in Orbitz Rewards. That’s still quite pricey for my budget.
A Night at Hyatt Place Charlottesville is 8,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points
The Hyatt Place Charlottesville is a Category 2hotel, which costs 8,000 points per night; or at the points plus cash rate, 4,000 points plus $55. You have to call in to request the points plus cash rate.
The hotel was sold out of points plus cash rooms. But there was still availability showing for 8,000 points per room.
Ultimate Rewards Points Transfer to Hyatt Immediately
Fortunately, I have a small stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points. These points can be cashed in as statement credits at the rate of one cent per point. 8,000 points are worth $80 in cash.
I chose to transfer 8,000 Ultimate Rewards points to my Hyatt Gold Passport account. The good thing about the Chase Ultimate Rewards program is that the transfers go through immediately.
I was able to reserve reserve a room — before the hotel sold out completely — for 8,000 points. That’s a pretty good deal in my book.
The hotel business is all about supply and demand.
Rooms in Charlottesville were very expensive on our chosen date, but the price in points of the Hyatt hotel remained static. 8,000 points might not be such a good deal on a low demand night, but in this instance we made out okay.
The AAdvantage frequent flyer program of American Airlines has a new promo offer to earn 2,000 miles.
The offer involves signing up for a free 30-day trial of the Next Issue digital magazine service. After your free trial, you can earn 2,000 AAdvantage miles if you subscribe to the service.
This is Not an Offer for 2,000 Free AAdvantage Miles!
I misread the offer and thought I could get 2,000 easy miles for signing up for Next Issue, after which I would cancel my subscription. That is not the case. You only earn the miles if you subscribe to the premium service for $14.95 a month, after your free trial ends.
I registered for the service, downloaded the Next Issue app, and took at look at the magazine offerings.
First up was the complete Consumer Reports 2016 Auto Guide. I could access vehicle specs, crash test results, reliability data, ratings, and the results of the Consumer Reports road tests. This is tremendously useful information for me as I am in the process of researching new cars.
Remember to cancel your registration before the 30-day trial ends or you will be charged $14.95.
If you want to spend $14.95 on a one month subscription, however, you can earn 2,000 AAdvanatage frequent flyer miles. You can cancel your subscription at any time.
I’m Not Going to Subscribe to Next Issue
Next Issue allows you to read 100 popular magazines online or offline.
Current titles include People, US Weekly, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Time, GQ, Consumer Reports, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Parents, Dwell and dozens of others.
Enjoy unlimited access to all the magazines you love — all in one app, for one low price — with Next Issue. Plus, earn 2,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® miles when you become a subscriber before October 1, 2015.
A subscription gives you access to past as well as current issue.
The service works on iPhones and iPads, Android phones and tablets, and Windows tablets and PCs. I found it difficult to read magazine articles on my iPhone 5s — it’s just too small. I don’t have a tablet, and the service won’t work on my Macbook, so I won’t be subscribing.
I think gift cards make terrible presents — Cash is a much better gift!
The unspent balances and fees on gift cards make a tidy profit for the people selling them.
Spending gift cards causes delays at the checkout counter.
Returns are more difficult with gift card purchases.
Gift cards can be lost or stolen.
There are a million more reasons why I hate gift cards, but that is a topic for another post.
This post is about each of the gift cards I have in my wallet right now, and why.
Staples Visa Gift Card — Value $20
I got this card from Staples as a rebate for purchasing $300 in Visa gift cards during a promotion. Every few weeks, Staples runs a promotion on Visa gift cards, with a rebate that offsets the card purchase fees. Sometimes, the rebate is in the form of a Staples gift card that must be spent at Staples. This Staples Visa gift card is a cash equivalent that can be spent anywhere.
Clydes Gift Cards — Value $50
Amex was running a special promotion where you could get a $5 credit for a $25 purchase at various Washington area restaurants. I purchased two $25 gift cards at Clydes, one with my Amex SPG credit card, and one with my Amex Bluebird card. Clydes is my favorite restaurant so I know these gift cards will be put to good use.
Tara Thai Gift Card — Value $45
Tara Thai is a fabulous restaurant that participates in the Rewards Dining Program. I purchased this gift card whenUnited Mileage Plus Dining was running a special promotion. The gift card gives me the flexibility to participate in the promotion offer, while delaying my actual dine until a more convenient time. I ended up missing the deadline for meeting the terms of the promotion, so I just earned 5 times Ultimate Rewards Points on this.
Lonestar Steakhouse Gift Card — Value $40
Lonestar Steakhouse is another participant in the Rewards Dining Program. I think when I picked up this gift card I had it confused with Texas Roadhouse. Lonestar Steakhouse is pretty far from where we live so we’ll have to go out of our way to use this.
Whole Foods Gift Card — Value $6.70
Amex Offers was offering a $15 statement credit for a $75 purchase at Whole Foods. By purchasing a gift card, I am able to earn the credit, while redeeming for small purchases at Whole Foods at my leisure.
Home Depot Gift Card — Value $100
I purchase Home Depot gift cards at Staples using a Chase Ink card that pays 5 times points on all purchases at office supply stores. I give the gift cards to our contractor to purchase supplies for our home renovation.
Amazon Gift Cards — $100
I picked up an Amazon gift card at Office Depot recently, where I earn 5 times points on my Chase Ink card. My daughter started college recently and we purchase some of her textbooks on Amazon.
Home Improvement Gift Card — $200
This is another Office Depot purchase. Home Improvement Gift Cards are sold without a fee, and can be used at either Lowes or Home Depot, as well as a number of other stores.
Starbucks Gift Card — $32
I purchase Starbucks gift cards at Staples and load them to my iPhone. I usually pick up something from Starbucks if there is an outlet in the airport.
Exxon Gift Cards — $100
Currently, I am putting my gas purchases on my Chase Freedom credit card because of the quarterly 5 times bonuses on gas purchases. I purchased these Exxon gift cards at Office Depot, but won’t use them until October when the Chase Freedom bonus categories change.
CVS — $10
Honestly I can’t remember where I obtained a paper gift card worth $10 at any CVS drugstore. It will be a miracle if I remember to use it! I do know that some Office Depot stores sell CVS gift cards.
What’s in My Wallet? $700 Worth of Gift Cards
I totalled up these various gift cards and am appalled to report that I am carrying around $700 worth of gift cards. That is overkill, for sure.
First off it is way too much cash equivalent to have in my purse.
Second, that is an awful lot of money to have tied up in gift cards rather than earning interest in the bank.
It is just as necessary to keep tabs on your gift cards as it is on your bank account or credit card balances. It looks like I need to be more deliberate about slimming down my wallet!
Are Gift Card Purchases Worth It?
Let’s tote up the bonuses I earned on these gift cards.
Ultimate Reward points: 4,160 points
Amex statement credits: $25
United Mileage Plus miles: 425 miles
This is pretty small potatoes. After accounting for the time and gas spent driving around to purchase these gift cards, you might conclude that its not worth stuffing your wallet with gift cards, remembering to use them, and holding up the checkout line for such trivial bonuses.
On the other hand, you might find that small bonuses add up to big rewards if you consistently pursue all opportunities.
Where do you come down? Are gift cards part of your miles and points strategy?
I had enough IHG points from a credit card bonus to get two free nights at a Holiday Inn hotel, and I was not going to let those points go to waste!
A Surprise Tropical Oasis at the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame
The reason I chose the Holiday Inn- Paris Notre Dame was location. The hotel is literally steps from the St. Michel Metrostation and the RER train station. It sits right on the border between the Latin Quarter and St. Germain de Pres. It is within walking distance of just about everything.
What really intrigued me about the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame, however, was the rooftop bar that provides generous views of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.
The rooftop bar did not disappoint. It was spellbinding to watch the sun set over the rooftops of Paris.
Another bonus was the charming garden off the hotel lobby, complete with a koi pond and tropical vegetation.
However, the decor of the hotel was quite garish, like a fuschia throwback to the 1970’s. You can see pictures of the rooms on TripAdvisor.
It turns out our neighbors had stayed there a couple of years ago. “It’s not very Parisian,” they said.
We were assigned to a tiny room on the first floor, with a bizarre large window between the bedroom and the bathroom.
Holiday Inn Paris Notre Dame: Things That Go Buzz in the Night
Upon returning to the Holiday Inn after a full day walking around Paris, I fell fast asleep.
Around 10 p.m., I was awakened by a security guy searching our room.
There was a strange buzzing going on, that my husband reported to the front desk.
We couldn’t locate the source of the buzzing. It sounded like it may be coming from the bathtub. No. Was it coming from the desk, or maybe from the closet?
The security man brought in a ladder and removed a ceiling tile. Nothing up there. Then he turned off the electricity to see if the buzzing would stop. No luck there. He left to search the adjoining rooms to see if he could identify the source of the persistent buzzing.
After an hour of this, it was getting ridiculous. It would be impossible to get back to sleep under these conditions.
The security guy radioed the front desk and said we would have to be relocated to another room. The desk clerk agreed.
Unfortunately, the hotel was fully booked for the night, and we would have to move to another hotel.
We packed our bags and headed down to the lobby.
I guessed that they would move us to another Holiday Inn. “Do you mind waiting?” the desk clerk asked. “There’s nothing available. Paris is completely booked tonight.”
Hotel Danube Paris, a More Traditional Accommodation
Half an hour later, she had secured a room and breakfast for us at what she promised was a very nice hotel not too far away.
She called us a cab, and we were whisked off to the Hotel Danube Paris on Rue Jacob in the 6th arrondissement.
I was up for the adventure — this would give us the opportunity to see another hotel and another neighborhood!
The Hotel Danube Paris is a typical Parisian hotel. It is a family-owned, solid three star hotel. There was a small courtyard where you can take breakfast. The lobby is decorated with ornate green wallpaper.
We arrived very late at night, and were lucky to get a large, comfortable room with an enormous bathroom. It was the Hotel Danube’s most expensive room, a “Prestige” room.
This is the kind of place I can imagine returning on a future visit to Paris.
The next morning, we reported back to the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame. The reception staff was most apologetic. I don’t think they ever located the source of the buzzing.
In exchange for our trouble, we were upgraded to an “Executive” room on the sixth floor for the remainder of our stay.
This “Executive” room was easily twice the size of our first room. It had a windows stretching the length of the room.
There was a balcony large enough for two chairs and a table. The balcony was shaded by vines and quite private. It had a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower.
The reception staff said that we would find a welcome amenity in our room. Yes, there was a Twix bar and a water bottle on the desk. Was this the amenity?
When we returned from dinner, we spotted another gift: a bottle of wine; and a beautiful book of water color paintings of Paris: Une Aquarelliste à Paris.
This was a touching gesture and will make a nice keepsake of our time in Paris.
Book the Room, Not the Hotel
The moral of the story is that in Paris, and many other places, there is a big difference between the standard room and a superior room at the same hotel.
Our perception of these two disparate hotels was greatly influenced by the room quality.
On a points stay, you are eligible for a standard room.
If you have status with the hotel, by virtue of holding a branded credit card, you may be upgraded to a larger room. Or maybe not.
If you are a cheapskate like me you may be reluctant to choose anything but the standard room. Based on this experience, I would advocate searching for a nicer room at a less expensive hotel before making a decision. In Paris, the difference between a four star hotel and a three star hotel may be whether there is a restaurant and a bar in the hotel, or an elevator, or other features that you might not care deeply about.
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U.S. Bank sent me a letter today thanking me for being a loyal Club Carlson Visa cardholder.
The reward for my loyalty? 7,500 bonus points.
This is an interesting development, considering that in the last few months, Club Carlson has decimated the value of their credit card by eliminating the second night free benefit and by raising the points required for a reward night at all their best properties.
If you did not receive a similar bonus, I suggest calling U.S. Bank, at 800-236-7546.
I was all set to cancel my Club Carlson Visa business card when the $60 annual fee comes due next month.
But after reading an article by Freequent Flyer about how the new one free night annual benefit will work, I am reconsidering.
Basically, you will be awarded a one-night free cert (for use in U.S. hotels only) upon paying the annual fee, if you have spent $10,000 on the card in the prior year.
After checking my account, I realized that I have already met the spending threshold.
In August, if I pay the $60 annual fee, I will earn 40,000 points. My current balance is 30,000 points. Thus, I would have enough for one award night, and one free night at a hotel like the Radisson Martinique on Broadway which charges 70,000 points for an award night. In general, two “free” nights is worth more to me than one “free” night, because reduces the likelihood of having to pay for a second night at the same hotel on a weekend trip.
Had I not already met the spending threshold, it would not be worthwhile for me to hold on to the Club Carlson Visa card. That’s because I would rather use a 2 percent cash back card like my Venture card if I were to spend $10,000. That would get me $200 to spend on travel, and I know I could find a nice New York City hotel on Priceline for less than that. $200 plus a $60 annual fee is not a good value for one night.
Have you decided what to do? Are you quitting Club Carlson or hanging on?
I purchased the train tickets with my relatively new Capital One Venture card, which has a generous 40,000 point bonus (worth $400 towards travel) for opening a new card after meeting the minimum spend requirement.
The Venture card has a “purchase eraser” feature that allows you to offset travel purchases with points earned from the card.
You earn 2x points on all purchases, and the annual fee of $59 is waived the first year.
Capital One Venture Card is Essentially a 2 Percent Cash Back Travel Rewards Card
I am really rocking this card. It doesn’t get much love in the miles and points world, but I look at it as a 2 percent cash back card that can accumulate points in a “travel savings account.”
I hear via the grapevine that it may be possible to get Capital One to waive the annual fee after the first year. For the meantime, I am putting my everyday spending on this card.
I got to put the Venture card to the test for our upcoming trip. After purchasing the train tickets, the charge posted to my account as a travel charge which could be offset via a credit from the purchase eraser.
Erase the Same Charge on your Capital One Venture Account More than Once
I applied the bonus points to the ticket cost of $122 for two one-way tickets to Newark. I noticed that the charge was still available to be credited. So I tried again, and a second $122 credit was applied to my account.
That means that the same charge can be wiped out more than once.
Use Your Capital One Venture Points to Partially Erase Charges
The return train tickets were $163, which I eliminated via the purchase eraser. Just for kicks, I applied the remaining balance of my points toward that charge again. I didn’t have enough points to cover the full amount, but I received a partial credit on my statement for a portion of the charge.
That means that you can apply points toward partial credits on travel charges, even if you don’t have enough points to completely offset the charges.
These two features mean that the Capital One Venture Card can function as a two percent cash back card, as long as you have a few travel expenses greater than $25 charged to your account.
Have you had a similar experience with the “purchase eraser”?