Japan, Or: Dear God Where Am I? Part Three

So yesterday I left you guys with the story of the crazy Izakaya (dinner show) and Mr. Yucky humping a ton of girls. Well, let me tell you how the end of the night went, because it’s just as ridiculous.

Sitting just behind David at the Izakaya was another couple. Miley (who pronounced it Mirey), a very Japanese girl who loved Disney as much as me, and her boyfriend, Jeremy, who was half-Japanese, half-Canadian, ano had moved to Japan from Canada just a few years prior.

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Miley *also* got her drawing humped

They ended up asking us if we wanted to go out after the show, and obviously we agreed. Miley said she knew a really awesome bar to go to, so we headed out right away.

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Very Vampire-y

Now, I don’t know if I’ve gotten this totally across yet, but Tokyo is full of weird places. Thus, we ended up at the Vampire Cafe, the *spookiest* bar/ restaurant around. It was in Ginza, where all the rich people like to play and hang out, so obviously we fit right in (not).

We spent a few awesome hours talking and hanging out, enjoying bloody drinks and creepy appetizers. Or something like that. Miley regaled us with tales of her work at Tokyo Disney and guys if you think I’m into Disney you need to meet these people. Fanatic doesn’t quite cover it.

Have you ever heard of the Japanese term Kawaii? It means cute, and is the favorite term of Harajuku girls (think violently pink dress-up clothes). Well, at one point during the night, Miley started telling David, whom she had already dubbed Denzel Washington, that he was *especially* kawaii. Over and over.

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David “Kawaii” Ragland

David loved this.

Eventually, however, her boyfriend got pissed and snapped at her “you can’t just call another man cute, Miley! It’s rude! What does his girlfriend think??”

Obviously I thought it was hilarious but did my best to look offended.

After a few hours, we wrapped up the night, took a few pictures with the resident vampire, and headed home to our apartment.

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Spooooky

And thus ended our first day in Japan.

-Carissa “Not so Kawaii” Rawson

Japan, Or: Dear God Where Am I? Part Two

Ok! I know I promised some more Japan, so here we go:

Remember how I left off with Mr. Yucky drawing a picture of my face and then humping it? It gets better.

There also happened to be a large table of Japanese girls, maybe 10 or so, who looked to be 18-25ish.

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See those girls in the background?

Well, they picked America as the country that they wanted him to represent. Cool, right?

Right.

So, Mr. Yucky went back into his closet and set up a puppet show with a little green frog, who proceeded to tell us about his life in America. Great, wonderful, etc etc. Finally, the little green frog goes: “do you guys want to meet my brother?”

“Yes!” shouts everyone.

“Do you want to meet my brother?”

“Yes!”

“His name is Dick! Do you guys want to meet my brother Dick?”

“Yes!” shouts everyone except David and I because we speak English and oh my god this is not going to end well.

The frog, hearing that we don’t respond, turns to me and says, “Carissa, DO YOU WANT TO MEET MY BROTHER DICK??”

To which I say no. Hell no. Everyone else in the room looks at me like I’m a spoilsport, which is short-lived because Mr. Yucky encourages them to start chanting his name.

“Dick! Dick! Dick!” shout the Japanese girls.

And out jumps Mr. Yucky in a giant green frog costume, with the puppet frog placed firmly over his crotch. He leaps at these girls and starts ramming the frog at their heads. They scream and cover their faces as he hops around the room shouting that his name is Dick.

Because America.

-Carissa

Some Like It Easy: An Awesome Offer for Us

Since I imagine many of you are new to/ have never really participated in the rewards card game, today I wanted to highlight a new card that just came out at the end of last year.

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The Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard has a number of benefits, which include:

  • 2x miles on all spending with American Airlines
  • 1x miles on all other spending
  • First checked bag free for the primary cardmember and up to 4 companions on eligible bags when traveling on domestic itineraries operated by American Airlines.
  • Group 1 boarding for the primary cardmember on domestic flights operated by American
  • 25% inflight savings on food, beverages, and headsets on American Airlines-operated flights
  • 10% of your redeemed miles back on redemptions (up to 10,000 miles per calendar year)
  • No foreign transaction fees

However, the most lucrative part of this offer is the sign-up bonus, which is 40,000 AAdvantage Miles after your first purchase (and once you pay the $95 annual fee). That’s right! There’s no minimum spend for this card, which means you can buy something as small as a Starbucks and land yourself 40,000 points.

That’s enough for roundtrip tickets from the US-Europe, or (almost) 3 roundtrip flights around the United States.

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Look where you can go!

That’s awesome! I paid for parking with my card and shelved it, since I’m not a huge American Airlines flyer, but I’m definitely looking into the best ways to spend my points.

So you guys know, Barclay’s Bank generally pulls from Transunion rather than Equifax. Most other banks will pull Equifax, so this will give you some breathing room on new card openings.

This is a really easy way to slide into the points earning game, with minimal investment and some pretty major rewards. What would you guys do with 40,000 points?

-Carissa

The Magnificent Maldives

Ok! I’m back! Sorry I’ve been away so long, I’ve just been busy moving around California and spending time with friends and family. I know I promised I would write more on Japan, and I will, but today I’m super stoked to talk to you guys about the things you can do with sign up bonuses.

I know I’ve already talked a bit about my favorite cards, but the world is filled with different credit cards companies just begging for your business. Of course, to entice you into spending with them, they offer some very generous sign up bonuses. One card that I just recently opened is the Chase Hyatt Visa, which comes up with a sign-up bonuses of two free nights at any Hyatt property.

Now, at first glance, the offer may not seem that awesome. I mean, who wants to go anywhere for two nights? However, David and I both are getting the card and stacking our offers, so we’ll be able to stay a total of four nights.

After earning the bonus (with $2,000 in spending in the first three months), you’ve gotta figure out where to stay. Now, what makes this offer so valuable is that it’s for any property, which led me to this:

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The Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa is possibly the chain’s nicest hotel. Located on its own island, and with room for only 100 people at a time, this hotel starts at $1000/night.

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I mean come on

But that’s for the cheapest season. You know what I’m gonna do? David and I (and some friends who I’ve convinced to join us) are going during the high season, when rooms are $1930. A stay for four nights would otherwise cost us $9,535. Or, y’know, free.

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If the Maldives aren’t your thing (because you’re afraid of sun? Or fabulousness?), there are plenty of other opportunities to use your free nights:

  1. Park Hyatt Vendome, Paris
  2. Park Hyatt Tokyo
  3. Park Hyatt Beaver Creek
  4. Park Hyatt Sydney
  5. Park Hyatt Milan
  6. Park Hyatt Zurich
  7. Park Hyatt New York

These ones aren’t *quite* as expensive as the Maldives, but are definitely more accessible for people not looking to travel to the middle of nowhere.

All in all, the Hyatt Chase Visa gives a pretty awesome sign-up bonus. Using it well can give you almost $5000 worth of free hotel stays! That’s worth my spending any day.

-Carissa “let’s do that!” Rawson

Japan, Or: Dear God Help Me Where Am I?

Since I’ve been bombarding you guys the last few days with different travel tips, I thought I’d go back a bit and talk about our trip to Japan last May. This trip was unique in a lot of ways, not the least because it was David’s first time leaving the US (as an adult. He had been to Mexico when he was a kid).

That meant that everything we were doing was going to be new and different and weird for him. Plus, y’know, it was Japan. Everything there is uncomfortably foreign.

Since this way last May, I actually didn’t have a ton of travel tricks up my sleeve. However, I had signed us up for British Airways Visa cards the year before, since I knew I’d be wanting to travel around. That meant our flights to and from Tokyo were free, which is a huge savings in and of itself.

I’m going to pause here and tout the awesomeness of Airbnb. Japan was our first time using the platform, and it saved us hundreds of dollars. It also lets you live like a local, which is something that everyone values (unless you’re in, like, Liberia). Since then, I’ve stayed in 13 different Airbnbs, with reservations for 11 more this year. What I’m saying is, these places can be great deals.

Our trip to Japan went like this: Tokyo -> Hakone -> Tokyo -> Kanazawa -> Kyoto -> Osaka -> Kobe -> Tokyo

We spent a total of ten days in Japan and encountered some of the coolest, weirdest, stuff around, like Harajuku, where everything is violently pink and men with professional cameras take pictures of dozens of girls in school uniforms. Awkward.

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Just a normal day in Harajuku

Anyway, the first day we landed in Tokyo at about 5am, which meant that almost everything was closed, and we were exhausted from the flight over. Economy life sucks, guys. Our Airbnb host was really nice and let us head to our flat early, which meant we were able to shower and get ready before heading out for the day.

Since David is a giant nerd, our first flat was in Akihabara, home of all things geeky. We arrived super duper early, so we got a chance to walk through the city while everything was still asleep, which was really cool.

Our random walking took us over to the Tokyo Zoo, which we ended up wandering through for a few hours before heading over to the Gundam Cafe because we’re losers. It was awesome.

For our first night, we ended up eating at an Izakaya, with a dinner show from our host Mr. Yucky.

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The show was…very Japanese. I mean that in the best way possible. We had traditional Japanese food, which meant a lot of mushrooms and fish. So basically I starved.

But the show. Ok, so Mr. Yucky asked each group of people to pick a country from a list that he had. When it came to my turn, I picked France. He disappeared into his back room for a minute before returning with an easel, a beret, and a piece of charcoal. French music began to play while he swiftly and silently began drawing a picture of me on his easel.

Then, having finished his art piece, he sat back for a minute and admired it before making out with it. A few seconds later, he picked it up, and with a flourish, dropped it down to his pants and began humping it.

I’m not kidding.

Then he handed it to me!

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Japan.

More later.

-Carissa “Draw me like one of your French girls” Rawson

Up to 68% off at any Waldorf Astoria hotel!

Guys! Listen to this!

So today I was strolling across my news feed when I saw that Hilton is offering a new sale- any stay at a Waldorf Astoria will give you $100/night to spend in whatever way you wish.

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But wait! It gets better! This offer will work with Citi Prestige’s 4th night free offer. Since David is infinitely tired of all the plans I’ve been making, I decided to keep it local and take a look at the La Quinta Waldorf Astoria  in Palm Springs, CA. This is the same hotel that Clark Gable and Audrey Hepburn stayed at, so no big deal, obviously.

Room rates here from August 7th-11th are $174 a night, and a 4 night stay will run you $932.20. Using the Citi concierge will refund you $233.05, bringing your overall total down to $699.15. That’s a pretty good deal for a really nice hotel, but when you use the offer code above, your total out of pocket cost will be $299.15 for 4 nights.

That’s awesome! That equates to 68% off for the 4 night run. On top of this, you’ll be earning points for the full $923.20 that you’ve “spent” on the hotel.

If you guys need me, I’ll be relaxing at the pool.

-Carissa “Waldorf” Ragland

Reselling Gift Cards for Profit

Ok, so today is going to be a little bit complicated, but bear with me here, it’s worth it.

Today was the first day I’ve actually resold gift cards to earn money. I’ve heard about it pretty often, but have never had the need/ have never jumped on it quickly enough to do it. Let’s start from the beginning:

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Whenever you get an American Express card, the card will update with different offers meant to save you money (really, it’s in order get you to spend money on your Amex, but that’s splitting hairs). These offers can rang from amazing to meh, but two days ago, American Express came out with an offer that looked like this: Spend $200 at Neiman Marcus, get a $50 statement credit. At first glance, that doesn’t seem so great, right? I mean, the discount is nice, but nothing to write home about.

If you have multiple American Express cards, there’s a chance that the offer is available on each card. In order to add it to each card, you have to first open a duplicate tab for every card. You then add the offer to each card on each tab without reloading the webpage. The reason for this is that American Express likes to limit you to one offer per account, rather than card. This trick gets around that and lets you do it for each one.

So after loading that offer to my 6 different cards, I strolled on over to the Neiman Marcus website. Not much I’d like to purchase except a nifty $200 gift card. Why? Because I can resell this gift card to a 3rd party reseller and earn myself both points and cash in the process.

After purchasing $1200 worth of gift cards, I went over to giftcardgranny.com in order to find out which website would pay me the most money for my gift card.

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It turns out that cardpool.com would instantly pay me $170 for my $200 gift card. Since I paid only $150 per card (after my $50 statement credit), this means I’ll earn $20 and 150 American Express points per card.

I know, I know, this doesn’t sound like a ton. But for just a few minutes worth of effort, I’ve earned $120 and 900 American Express points, which is worth around $20. Since I’m rocking that job free life, every little bit counts.

Most people use gift card reselling in order to meet spending requirements. I’ve never done that personally, but I can see the appeal. Perhaps one day, when I can’t make the spend on my own, I’ll try it out. Until then, free money is where it’s at!

-Carissa the less poor

The Joy of the American Express Concierge

Today, I want to share something really awesome that the American Express platinum card can do. If you guys read my blog from a few days ago, you saw that there’s an Amex concierge for platinum card holders, which will make dinner reservations for you, buy and deliver flowers to your beloved, or even snag you theatre tickets for hard-to-get plays.

Well, I’m here to officially say that, thanks to American Express, we got tickets to Hamilton! As in, tickets at full face value, not price gouged to 8x the cost.

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How, you ask? Well, I had heard of American Express selling tickets at face value before, so I signed up for all the different newsletters that announce it. As soon as it popped up, with availability on 5 separate dates, I called up the concierge and had her reserve me some tickets. Since the maximum number of tickets any one person (or account) can buy is 4 (to prevent reselling, I guess), I then asked my stepmom to call her concierge and buy the final ticket. It worked like a charm!

The show is February 7th, and 5 of us are heading over to Chicago to see it. The tickets were only $120 each, rather than ~$700, which makes flying all the way to Chicago worth it.

Since I’m in California right now, David is flying separately to meet me out there, and then we’re using our Southwest Companion Pass to fly back together for half the cost. Cool, right?

See ya guys in Chicago!

-Carissa the deal Queen

Award Wallet: For Travel Pros

So I’ve talked about a ton of different award programs, and mentioned tons of different sign-up bonuses, but I haven’t mentioned how exactly I keep all my things organized. (My mom brought this up to me. Thanks Mom!)

How do I keep all these different accounts under control and up-to-date? The answer is far easier than a spreadsheet (though I guess if you’re that kind of person you can use one too).

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I use Award Wallet, a free account tracking program that keeps all of your accounts in one, easily accessible, place. There are two versions, Award Wallet Basic and Award Wallet Plus. Plus includes some nifty features, such as tracking when your points will expire, so you’re never caught off guard.

Here’s my referral link, if you guys want to sign up:

Award Wallet

Use my code: free-ybdiga

To upgrade to Award Wallet Plus for free. That code is good for 10 uses, so don’t wait and get left out!

-Carissa

Oktoberfest: The Most Fun I Can’t Remember Having

So, as some of you have probably seen, we did a trip around Europe late last year, which went something like this: France -> UK -> Netherlands -> Belgium -> Germany -> Italy -> France. It was super fast paced and super fun, but there was definitely a lot of stress involved too, especially since we were basically moving from country to country (almost) every day.

But! That’s a story for another time. Today, I want to talk about Oktoberfest! Mostly because it was one of my favorite experiences ever and some of the most fun I’ve ever had (though the details at the end of the night are pretty hazy).

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PJ and I at the Hippodrom

We actually ended up staying in Munich for two nights, simply because I thought we’d need the time for recovery. Yes, yes we did. The first night we were there, we went to the Hippodrom, which is supposed to be a really cool after party place where you hang out post Oktoberfest festivities. Unfortunately, there was a huge soccer game that night and we ended up being there (almost) alone. I also managed to drink an entire liter of beer and not be even a *little* buzzed. (Turns out it was half lemonade. Thanks.)

However, the next day we were set to go to the real Oktoberfest and party wildly, and let me tell you guys, party we did.

Since PJ (my older brother) and I are actually German, we wanted to make sure we dressed in authentic German clothes while there. And David…just wanted to fit in. So! We bought authentic lederhosen and a dirndl for me, which ended up looking totally fabulous (but I’m not biased).

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Looking great

The day of, we arrived around 2pm, worried that we were showing up too early. Not so, my friends, not so.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Oktoberfest, it’s essentially an enormous, month-long festival that celebrates Bavarian culture and beer. There’s a huge carnival outside, with rides and roller coasters. There are also tons of stands selling souvenirs at gouged prices, which we happily paid. (I bought a heart-shaped cookie with the word Bussi written on it, which means kiss)

There are also about 20 tents from various German breweries, ranging in size from 200 to 6000 people. These tents are filled with wooden tables and busty serving ladies who brusquely shove beer at you in exchange for Euros. There’s also traditional German food, ranging from sausages to schnitzel, which we ordered immediately upon arriving.

So, like I said, we were worried about showing up too early for the party and being the lame people alone in the tents. Well, there were about, I dunno, 1000 people in our tent by the time we arrived? While we were able to find a seat, it was definitely crowded, and another couple immediately came over to share with us. (This is the norm).

We each ordered a different entree’, and quickly dug in once our food arrived. David got himself some bratwurst, which he managed to take two bites of before the elderly German couple next to us sighed and took it away from him.

“This,” they explained in thickly accented English as they dissected his sausage, “is the skin. You cannot eat the skin of the bratwurst.”

They then gave it back to him and watched as he attempted to…de-skin his sausage, before taking it back and doing the whole thing for him. I’ll never forget the sight of an old German woman flailing a sausage around on a plate while David watched in awe. Those are memories, my friends.

There is only one size of beer you can order, and that is the liter. If you can’t drink it, get out. For obvious reasons, many people are incredibly drunk, and the Oktoberfest police are all over it. If you look tired, or put your head down, or seem as if you’re going to be sick, that’s it, you’re out.

That being said, one of the most entertaining things to watch during Oktoberfest are the numerous idiots attempt to down the entire liter of beer in one shot. This happens so often, it’s actually an Oktoberfest challenge, and every single person in the tent stands up to watch you try. Immediately after receiving a beer, you stand up, put one foot on the bench, and get to chugging. Initially, the crowd cheers for you, but if you’re too slow, they start booing, and they boo loud. They also throw schnitzels, sausages, and other assorted debris at you, you big loser.

So obviously, I had to try it. The short answer is yes, I can drink an entire liter of beer at once. The long answer is no, I cannot keep it down. (Or at least I chose not to, since it was still early in the day and I didn’t want to be comatose)

I’m so classy.

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Classy.

Every so often, the live band situated in the middle of the tent would start playing, and everyone would stop what they were doing to sing along and wave their beers in the air. I don’t know a single word of German, so my singing went a little something like this, “blaaargle laaaaargel mein roviaaaa OI OI OI!”

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Then we would clink glasses and drink deeply. Rinse and repeat for 11 hours, and you have the entire Oktoberfest festival.

We ended up wandering from tent to tent, and eventually wound up sitting with a few guys who I thought were German, but actually ended up being deaf Americans.

See, it’s really loud in the tents, and when you can’t understand what people are saying, you just assume they don’t speak the same language. One of the deaf guys, who thought he was extremely fabulous, happened to be the twin brother of some model dude who was on Dancing With the Stars one time. I guess that makes him…famous? Anyway, he got really mad once he realized I had no idea who he was. His friend, who was clearly there for moral support and maybe also to chauffeur him around, looked a little like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. He was much nicer than his famous friend and we ended up talking for quite a while before he invited me to join them on their road trip to Italy and I fled in case they were axe murderers. Fun!

As the hours wound on, everyone got more drunk, more cheerful, and infinitely louder. Let me lay out the scene for you:

The sounds of the crowd crashed around me as I peered around, blearily, looking for David. My arms wrapped around my brother on my left and an unfamiliar friend on my right David’s face leered into my vision, a dramatized version of himself as we swayed to and fro. “Oi oi oi!” We shouted, clinking glasses as we stood, wobbling on the wooden benches of the festival table.

All around us, voices reverberated, a thousand thousand revelers cheering as they drank deeply from their mugs. Waitresses hurried through the gaps, clutching five, ten beers apiece as they rushed towards their thirsty customers. Everywhere I looked, people were grinning, cheering as they celebrated this age old festival. Across from us, a family with their daughter, no older than fourteen, sang and laughed, enjoying the family friendly environment.

Beer sloshing down our fronts, we drank, another and another and another. On the ground, flirty females wound their way through groups of interested men, their aprons tied expressly to one side- telling everyone, “Yes, I’m free. Yes, I want to talk.”

New friends made drunken promises, creating plans to meet- in Germany, in France, in England. From everywhere these people came to celebrate, to indulge in the age-old tradition of simple food, simple drinks, and simple fun. And indulge we did.

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Us on the train ride home

-Carissa the Oktoberfest Queen